Greek surnames date back as early as the 9th century, meaning those of Greek origin could have the same name as some of the earliest people in history. Greek ancestry ties many families to Greek mythology, historical rebels, and famous empires. If you’re interested in learning more about the context of the Greek surname, uncovering the meanings of the most popular greek last names, and possibly discovering the legends your family is tied to, continue to read on!
Greece was ruled for many centuries under the Byzantine Empire along with many other territories found in Italy, the Balkans, Asia Minor, Levant, and North Africa. Constantinople was the capital of this Christian state, and their official language was Greek. Although it ended many years ago, the Byzantine Empire was the longest-lasting medieval power, and we continue to see its influence today through religion, art, architecture, and surnames. Greek surnames began with this empire as Byzantine royalty started to use them around the 9th century.
The next wave of history began in 1299 when Osman I founded the Ottoman Empire. The empire continued to grow over many centuries, starting in Anatolia (Asia Minor) and expanding out to many countries at its peak that included modern-day Vienna, Hungary, the Balkan region, Greece, and parts of Ukraine, portions of the Middle East now occupied by Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Egypt, North Africa as far west as Algeria, and large parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
1430 was when the Ottomans conquered Thessaloniki, one of the wealthiest and largest cities of the Byzantine Empire, and then Constantinople in 1453, terminating the Byzantine Empire completely. Many artists and scholars fled, crossing the Ionian Sea and taking refuge in Calabria, or what is now known as Italy’s southern section. This helped to initiate the European Renaissance and push nations to search for new trade routes, starting the Age of Exploration. Religion also played a major role during new leadership for the Ottomans were Muslims. However, to keep the public from rebelling, they allowed Christians and Jews to continue practicing their faith.
Around this time, surnames were still not very common. They were prevalent in society but not firmly fixed, allowing last names to be flexible, especially in villages, until the third decade of the 19th century.
The War for Greek Independence in March 1821 with Alexandros Ypsilantis and a small force of troops crossing the Prut River into Turkish-held Moldavia. This rebellion had been ruminating over a period of 7 years since the first patriotic conspiracy was found in 1814. Despite Ypsilantis being soon defeated by the Turks, revolts occurred sporadically across Greece in Peloponnese, north of Corinth, and multiple islands.
Rebels finally gained control of Peloponnese in 1822, confronted with freedom and internal conflict that spurred civil wars that allowed the Ottoman to overtake them again in 1825. The European powers then intervened, and eventually, a Greco-Turkish settlement was made where Greece adopted a London protocol and was declared an independent monarchical state under their protection.
In 1832, Prince Otto of Bavaria accepted the crown and the Turkish sultan recognized Greek independence with the Treaty of Constantinople in July 1832. This freedom from the Ottoman Empire is what truly sparked the commonality of Greek surnames.
The Creation of Greek Surnames:
The creation of Greek surnames stemmed from the following five categories:
- From the father’s name (patronymic): This category is the most common, with last names being created by adding “son of” to the end of the father’s first name.
- From the father’s name (patronymic): It is also common for surnames to reflect the original bearer’s personal or physical trait. For example, Kontos (short) forming Kontogiannis (short John).
- Occupation or titles: Surnames across many cultures indicate occupation or title—for example, Raftis (tailor) or Papa (priest).
- Foreign Terms: Some surnames are derived from Turkish words or other languages that used to have ties to Greece. However, this does not signify ancestry. One example is Topalidis, being derived from Turkish words such as “topal” (lame) or “top” (cannon).
- Localities: This category covers a minute source of Greek surnames, but it refers to when a male may have moved to another place, and his last name was created based on the place of his origin—for example, Kypros (from Cyprus) or Arvanitis (from Albania).
As you can see, many layers went into the beginning of Greek surnames. Common Greek last names found today tie back to many key dates in history and indicate interesting aspects of your Greek ancestors. So let’s dive into the 70+ most popular Greek last names we have found!
Meaning: “son of the messenger/angel.”
Meaning: derived from the personal name ‘Alexios’ with the patronymic ending ‘poulos.’
Meaning: derived from the Greek name ‘Athanasios’ meaning “immortal.”
Meaning: “descendant of Christ’s servant.”
Meaning: derived from ‘Chronos’ meaning “time” or “year.”
Meaning: patronymic surname meaning “son of Daniel.”
Meaning: “child or follower of Demeter, the Greek goddess of fertility.”
Meaning: derived from ‘doulos’ meaning “slave,” “servant”; ‘genis’ meaning “being born.”
Meaning: “duke or lord.”
Meaning: “dragon” or “ogre.”
Meaning: An occupational surname given to stewards or anyone who manages property. Derived from the Greek word ‘oikonomos’ meaning “steward.”
Meaning: ‘flor’ referring to a “flower”, “blossom”, or “virginity”, with the ‘akis’ suffix stemming from Crete.
Meaning: patronymic surname meaning “descendant of Frank.”
Meaning: “someone with light blue eyes.”
Meaning: “wife or kin of Georgios”; derived from the husband’s surname.
Meaning: Greek annotation of ‘Hajj,’ meaning “a person who has completed a pilgrimage.”
Meaning: “child of John.”
Meaning: “son of Herakles” (also known as ‘Hercules’ meaning “glory/pride of the Goddess Hera” in Greek mythology).
Meaning: “son of the monk.”
Meaning: Occupational surname given to people who make cauldrons or use a cauldron for the distillation of alcohol; the reduced form of ‘Kazandis’ meaning “people who make cauldrons.”
Meaning: “the color red.”
Meaning: “someone who lived in a forest.”
Meaning: “of the Lord”
Meaning: patronymic surname, “son of Levi”; ‘Levi’ derived from the Hebrew word meaning “joined” or “attached.”
Meaning: “sausage”; occupational Greek family name given to a butcher or a sausage maker
Meaning: “son of Mark”; ‘Mark’ is an ancient Greek name meaning “consecrated to the god of Mars” or the “god of war.”
Meaning: “a person with a mustache.”
Meaning: “relating to the law” or “legal.”
Meaning: derived from the Greek word ‘Otto’ meaning “wealth” or “fortune.”
Meaning: “always live” or “live forever.”
Meaning: “father or priest” (‘akis’ stemming from Crete).
Meaning: “son of a priest.”
Meaning: “priest’s son.”
Meaning: “son of Pavlos.”
Meaning: “descendant of a Persian”
Meaning: “saddler” or “saddle maker.”
Meaning: derived from the Turkish word ‘sari,’ meaning “blond, fair-haired.”
Meaning: “son of a Serb.”
Meaning: “son of Theodoros”; ‘Theodoros’ meaning “god-given” or “god’s gift.”
Meaning: derived from the Greek word ‘Vasilikos’ meaning “basil.”
Meaning: “descendant of a Bulgarian”
Meaning: derived from ‘zafeiri’ meaning “sapphire”; when used as a surname, it means “son of Zafeiris.”
More Cool Last Names and Their Origins
Below are more last name articles that lead a reader to discover more about their surname and family history.
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