Romanian Surnames
Last updated: 2012-06-05 13:29 EET
Surnames are one of the key elements defining the identities of human groups, from tribes to families. Surnames are passed from one generation to another, and therefore tend to remain unchanged through time. However, minor alterations are occasionally made. Some Romanian surnames take after the names of various peoples in this part of Europe, with whom the Romanian population had contact at one point or another in history. There is a wealth of such surnames in the Romanian language.

Some of the oldest Romanian surnames are related to the Cumans, a Turkic nomadic people who reached the Carpathian region in the early 13th century. Related surnames include Coman, Comanescu and Comaneci.

From east of Romania, one of the most common surnames is Rusu, meaning ‘the Russian’. From the old Romanian language, we have the surname Muscalu, an ancient name for Russians, from the city of Moscow. From the region that is today Ukraine, we have the surname Rusnac, an old Romanian word for Ruthenian, and Cazacu, from the Cossack population in southern Russia. Another surname of eastern origin is Tataru, from the Tartar people, another Turkic people.

To the southeast, we find the Turks, a people that birthed the Romanian surname Turcu, and the less common variant Turculet. They remind of a long-lasting cohabitation of Romanians and Turks, with the Ottoman Empire serving as a cultural model for over two centuries. A pretty uncommon surname is Arapu, from the word ‘Arab’ Arab.

We are now moving to southern and south-western Romania where we can find names like Bulgaru, Grecu and Sarbu, from the names of the Balkan countries of Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia. In order to understand the significance of names like Arnautu we must go back to old Romanian. In the 18th century, during the Phanariot regime, the Wallachian princes would recruit as their personal guards the so-called arnauti – meaning armed mercenaries of Albanian origin. Therefore, Arnautu has been turned from an ethnonym into a surname and through extension it has become synonymous to a policeman.

The Romanian language has also borrowed the name of Macedon, from Macedonia, a province located in the Balkans, which was home to a mixture of various ethnic groups. The name Armanca, which is a rather rare name though, comes from another Oriental ethnic group, the Armenians which had already formed significant communities in Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania.

The traditional Romanian names originating in western Romania have got at least as rich a legacy as those from the southern or eastern parts of this country. The Hungarians living in Transylvania have got the greatest variety of traditional names. For instance, there are names like Maghiar, Ungureanu, or Secuiu. The Romanian language has also taken over other ethnonyms from Hungarian, such as Oros meaning Russian in Hungarian, Lenghel – that is Pole, Horvat – meaning Croatian, Toth or Trotu – that is Slovakian or Szekelyi - that is Szeckler. Another name which is coming from Transylvania is Sasu , which is actually the name given to the ethnic Germans living in southern Transylvania The same applies when we refer to the name of Neamtu - a Romanian word meaning German.
The name of Leahu is coming from our neighbours the Poles and together with Lesh, also meaning Pole has its origins in the north.

The name of Francu, which in the 19th century Romanian meant French, appeared in modern times when the Romanian society had connected to Western culture and values. This is one more evidence of the fact that Romanian culture was integrated into the French-speaking world, which thus became the major tool of westernisation of the Romanian space.

Quite interesting is that the name of the two ethnic groups with which the Romanian has been long cohabitating can be very rarely or never found in traditional Romanian names. The name of Tziganu, which is quite rare though, comes from tzigan – gypsy, while there is no trace of Jewish origin in traditional Romanian names.

Some of the Romanian names themselves have also become surnames, such as Olah (which means Romanian in Hungarian ) or Roman, whereas Vlase, Vlahopol or Valahul all come from Valah, the name for the Romanians living in the Middle Ages.
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