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Basque surnames: Wikis


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A Basque etxea in Uztaritze

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 "Jimenez", 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. 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 and Spanish surname arguably based on old Basque "azenari", 'fox' (modern Basque "azeri", cf. old Basque "Zenarrutza" vs. modern Basque "Ziortza").

This characteristic Basque naming tradition came to a halt when in the 15th century Catholic Church tightened regulations to christenize practices that didn't stick to the Church's orthodoxy. 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') for the most part.


During the medieval period Basque names were written broadly following the spelling conventions of the official languages of the day, usually Spanish and French.

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.

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
Zubiri Zubiri Çubiry
Elizalde Elizalde Elissalde/Delissalde
Etxeberria Echeverría Etcheverry/Detcheverry
Etxepare Echepare Etchepare/Detchepare
Ezkibel Esquivel Esquibel
Intxausti Inchausti Ynchausty

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 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)], 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 really long if both paternal and maternal surnames are required when filling out a form for example. Such forms are already found in 1053[1]

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 get 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[2].

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[1]

Surnames from either category are formed using nouns, adjectives, a number of suffixes and endings such as the absolutive ending -a, the relational suffix -ko and the genitive ending -ren.

An example of the second class are Martinikorena ("Martinico's [house]", Martinico being a Navarrese hypocoristic for Martin). Another would be Mikelena, "Michael's".

The following examples all relate to the location of the family home.

Surname Elements Meaning
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"[3] + -tegi "place" smith's workshop/carpentry
Bidarte bide "way" + arte "between" between the ways
Bolibar bolu "mill" + ibar "valley" mill valley
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
Ibarra ibar valley
Loiola lohi "mud" + -ola "place" muddy place
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. The fact that people of very different race carry a Basque surname could be often put down to a lord of Basque origin or ancestry lending his surname to his servants or slaves, especially in Latin America.

Modern Spelling Meaning Older Spellings
-aga place of
agirre prominence aguirre
-alde side alde
-arte between art
aurre(a) front
barren(a) inner, lowest. Often in a pair with goien
behe down be, ve
berri(a) new berry, varri, verría, verry
bide(a) way, path vida, vide
buru head, end bure
garai(a) high garay
goi high goy
eliza church eliç(e), elic(e), eliss, elex, elej
-eta abundance of ette
etxe(a) house ech, eche, etche
gorri(a) red corri, gourry
(h)aritz(a) oak áriz, harits
(h)arri(a) stone harri, harry
iturri source
mendi(a) mountain mendy
-ola hut, forge olha
-ondo nearby onde
sagar(ra) apple
-tegi home, workshop tegui
-(t)za abundance
urru(ti) far
zabal(a) wide çabal, zábal, zaval
-zahar(ra) old zar, zaar

See also


Specific surnames


  • 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
  1. ^ a b Apellido in the Spanish-language Auñamendi Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ Enciclopedia de los nombres propios, Josep M. Albaigès, Editorial Planeta, 1995, ISBN 84-08-01286-X
  3. ^ arotz in Hiztegi Batua, Euskaltzaindia


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