Basque surnames on the whole are easily identifiable, reasonably well documented and follow a small number of set patterns. The vast majority of all Basque surnames are not patronymic (like Johnson in English), or based on personal features (like Brown or Smith) but refer to the family's etxea, the historically all important family home.
When a farm (baserri) was rented to another family, often the new tenants were known locally by the farm name rather than by their officially registered surname.
The earliest documented Basque surnames occur on Aquitanian inscriptions from the time of the Roman conquest of Hispania and Gallia Aquitania. For the most part these can be easily identified with modern or medieval Basque surnames, for example ENNECONIS (the personal name Eneko plus the Latin genitive ending -IS) > Enekoitz.
García, one of the most frequent Spanish surnames, was originally a Basque first name stemming from Basque "gartzia", 'the young'. Mediaeval Basque names follow this descriptive naming pattern about the person, pointing to physical features, family relations or geographical origin, e.g. Eneko (Spanish Iñigo) may be a hypochoristic mother-to-child addressing, 'my little'. Modern surname "Jiménez", mediaeval "Xemenis" and like spelling variants, may stem from the root "seme", 'son', along the lines of similar Aquitanian instances (cf. "Sembeconni").
In the Middle Ages, a totemic animal figure often stood for the person's presumable features.:20 Otxoa ("wolf") was a Basque version of the Romance name Lope, but now it is a surname. "Velasco" was a name, later to become a surname, derived from Basque "belasko", 'small raven'. "Aznar" is a mediaeval Basque, Gascon and Spanish surname arguably based on old Basque "azenari", 'fox' (modern Basque "azeri", cf. old Basque "Zenarrutza" vs. modern Basque "Ziortza").:63
This characteristic Basque naming tradition came to a halt when in the 16th century Catholic Church tightened regulations to Christianize practices that didn't stick to the Church's orthodoxy (cf. given name Ochanda, 'female wolf', in Vitoria-Gasteiz still in the 16th century). Thereafter, Romance first names were imposed, while surnames went on to express place descriptions (e.g. "Luzuriaga", 'place of white earth') and parental origin (e.g. "Marinelarena", 'the sailor's son'):83, 126 for the most part.
The main differences lie in the way the relatively large number of Basque sibilants are spelled. These are especially hard to represent using French spelling conventions so on the whole, the French spelling of Basque words in general tends to be harder to reconcile with the modern spellings and the pronunciation. Also, vowel initial Basque surnames from the Northern Basque Country acquired an initial d (French de) in many cases, often obscuring the original Basque form e.g. Duhalt < de + uhalte ('the stream environs'), Dotchandabarats < de + otxandabaratz ('orchard of the female wolf'), Delouart < del + uharte ('between streams').
Since the introduction of Standard Basque and a common written standard, the number of non-indigenous spelling variants has begun to reduce, especially in Spain, taking on a form in accordance with the meaning of the surname in Basque, which remains irrelevant in other language spellings.
|Modern Standard||Spanish Spelling||French Spelling|
Note that in the French-based spellings the D is unhistoric and represents the French partitive particle d' "of".
As is the legal convention in Spain, Basques in the South have double legal surnames, the first being that of the father and the second that of the mother. In the North, Basques legally have only one surname as is the convention in France. Nonetheless, most Basques can at least recite the surnames of their parents and grandparents generation. The founder of Basque nationalism, Sabino Arana, demanded a certain quantity of Basque surnames from his followers to reject people of mixed lineage.
In Alava and west of Navarre a distinctive formula has been followed, with the surname being composite, i.e. [a first title of Spanish origin, usually a patronymic] + de + [a Basque place-name (usually a village)],:23-24 take for instance Fernández de Larrinoa, Ruiz de Gauna or López de Luzuriaga, meaning 'Fernández from Larrinoa', etc., which does not imply a noble origin. Therefore, surnames can be very long if both paternal and maternal surnames are required when filling out a form for example. Such forms have been found from as early as 1053.
For a while it was popular in some circles to follow a convention of stating one's name that was invented by Sabino Arana in the latter part of the 19th century. He decided that Basque surnames ought to be followed by the ethnonymic suffix -(t)ar. Thus he adopted the habit of giving his name, Sabino Arana Goiri, as Arana ta Goiri'taŕ Sabin. This style was adopted for a while by a number of his fellow PNV/EAJ supporters but has largely fallen out of fashion now.
These descriptive surnames can become very long. The family will probably be known by a short form or a nickname. The longest Spanish surname recorded is Burionagonatotorecagageazcoechea sported by an employee at the Ministry of Finances in Madrid in 1867.
Types and composition
The majority of modern Basque surnames fall into two categories:
- a descriptive of the family house. This usually either refers to the relative location of the home or the purpose of the building.
- the first owner of the house. Usually this is a man's name. These surnames are relatively recent
The following examples all relate to the location of the family home.
|Arrigorriagakoa||(h)arri "stone" + gorri "red" + aga "place of" + -ko "of" + -a "the"||the one of the place of the red stones|
|Aroztegi||(h)arotz "smith/carpenter" + -tegi "place"||smith's workshop/carpentry|
|Bidarte||bide "way" + arte "between"||between the ways|
|Bolibar||bolu "mill" + ibar "valley"||mill valley|
|Elkano||elke "vegetable garden" + no "small"||small vegetable garden|
|Elizondo||eliza "church" + ondo "nearby"||near the church|
|Etxandi||etxe "house" + handi "big"||big house|
|Etxarte||etxe "house" + arte "between"||house between|
|Etxeberri||etxe "house" + berri "new"||new house|
|Goikoetxe||goi "high place" + etxe "house"||high lying house|
|Ibaiguren||ibai "river" + guren "edge"||river's edge|
|Loiola||lohi "mud" + -ola "place"||muddy place|
|Mariñelarena||Marinela "sailor" + suffix "rena"||the sailor's (home/son)|
|Mendiluze||mendi "mountain" + luze "long"||the long mountain|
|Mendoza||mendi "mountain" + hotza "cold"||cold mountain|
|Urberoaga||ur "water" + bero "hot" + -aga "place of"||the place of the hot water|
|Zabala||zabal "wide"||the wide one|
|Zubiondo||zubi "bridge" + ondo "nearby"||near the bridge|
Recognising Basque surnames
Basque surnames are relatively easy to spot through the high frequency of certain elements and endings used in their formation, bearing in mind the spelling variants. Outside the Basque Country, Basque surnames are often found in Spain and France, the former Spanish colonies in parts of South America and the Philippines and parts of the United States such as Idaho where substantial numbers of Basques emigrated to.
|Modern Spelling||Meaning||Older Spellings|
|barren(a)||inner, lowest. Often in a pair with goien|
|berri(a)||new||berry, varri, verría, verry|
|bide(a)||way, path||vida, vide|
|eliza||church||eliç(e), elic(e), eliss, elex, elej|
|etxe(a)||house||ech, eche, etche|
|zabal(a)||wide, meadow||çabal, zábal, zaval|
- "Nombres: Eneko". Euskaltzaindia (The Royal Academy of the Basque Language). Retrieved 2009-04-23. Article in Spanish
- Michelena, L. (1973) Apellidos vascos (5th edition), Txertoa: 1997.
- Apellido in the Spanish-language Auñamendi Entziklopedia.
- Enciclopedia de los nombres propios, Josep M. Albaigès, Editorial Planeta, 1995, ISBN 84-08-01286-X
- arotz in Hiztegi Batua, Euskaltzaindia
- Etxegoien, J. Orhipean: Gure Herria ezagutzen Xamar: 1992, ISBN 84-7681-119-5
- Gorrotxategi, M. Nomenclátor de apellidos vascos/Euskal deituren izendegia Euskaltzaindia: 1998
- Michelena, L. Apellidos vascos (5th edition), Txertoa: 1997
- Trask, L. The History of Basque, Routledge: 1997, ISBN 0-415-13116-2