Ukrainian surnames: origin and meaning

Ukrainian surnames, as well as names, had always special meaning from the ancient times. They gave the additional important information about human origin and estate, the genealogy and type of craft. Common Ukrainian last names are not the exception. One has only to mention popular Ukrainian last names and such surnames as Shevchenko, Petrenko, Doroshenko and Shynkarenko are immediately coming to mind.

Ukrainian last names origin

As the matter of fact Ukrainian surnames are ones of the most ancient in Europe. In 17th century almost all Ukrainians had their family names. For comparison, Frenchmen received surnames only in the beginning of 19th century due to Napoleon’s decree.

There are four basic factors, which have an essential influence on Ukrainian surnames development.

Cossack past

-enko suffix

Ukrainian surnames with suffix “-enko” are considered to be the most typical for Ukrainians not only for their greatest percent majority, but also for the fact that they are rarely found among other Slavic people. Such surnames became also popular in Russia after the reunification with Ukraine in 1654, when Ukrainians formed second-largest ethnic group.

First mentions about popular Ukrainian last names with suffix “-enko” are referred to 16th century. Their localization was typical for Podillya region, rarely for Kyiv, Zhytomyr and Galicia regions. Later they became popular in the eastern part of Ukraine.

In Cossack registers (1649) such surnames had absolute superiority over the others. That fact was explained that mostly young Cossacks were put on the registry while their parents received the last names without “-enko” endings, for example, Koval and Kovalenko (Koval’s son), Ugryn Elder and Ivan Ugrynenko (Ugryn’s son), etc.

Self-invented composite last names were also popular among Cossacks. According to the rules of Sich, all newcomers should forget their real surnames and enter the Cossack world with new names close to describing their personal characteristics.

Most of such Cossack surnames consisted of two words, imperative verbs or adjectives and nouns without any suffixes, and sounded sometimes funny, for example, Zaderyhvist (pick up the tail), Zhujboroda (chew the beard), Navarykasha (cook the porridge), Dobryvechir (good evening). Some of such last names are still in use – Tyagnybok, Vernygora, Kryvonis, etc.

Polish influence

“-sky”, “-skiy” endings

The territory of modern Ukraine was the part of Rzecz Pospolita for a long time, which influenced greatly on Ukrainian surnames development. The most popular last names of that period had the form of adjectives and ended on “-skiy”, “-sky” and were based on such toponyms as the names of territories, cities and water bodies.

At first surnames with “-sky” endings had exceptionally Polish aristocracy indicating their rights of ownership: Pototsky, Zamoisky. Later such endings became popular throughout Ukraine and were added to names or monikers: Artemovsky, Khmelnitsky.

From the beginning of 18th century “noble surnames” were assigned to only educated people, primarily to priests.

“-uk”, “-chuk”, “-ak” suffixes

Ukrainian family names with such suffixes also originated during Rzecz Pospolita period. Christening names were the bases for these surnames, which helped to distinguish ordinary people from noble. That was the way such surnames as Kondratiuk, Havryluk, Zakharchuk, Ivaniuk appeared.

Eastern trace

There are approximately 4000 Turkic words in Ukrainian language. It is connected with Turkic and other Eastern people migration in Black sea and Dniester regions, which reflected on Ukrainian last names creation.

Some ethnologists state that popular in Ukraine surname ending “-ko” originated from Adyghe word “къо” (“kjo”) and means “son, descendant”. For example, Shevchenko could come from Adyghe word “sheudzhen”, which was translated as “Christian priest”. The descendants of immigrated priests were added “-ko” ending and received Shevchenko last name.

Ethnic brightness

The diversity of Ukrainian last names is the result of impact of those countries and people, which had a great influence on Ukraine throughout centuries. It’s interesting to know that before 18th century all Ukrainian surnames could be changed for several times. At the end of 18th century according to the decree by Austrian Empress Maria Theresia all surnames gained the legal status, including Ukrainian regions that belonged to Austria-Hungary.

There are some differences between two terms: “Ukrainian surname” and “surname that belongs to Ukrainians”. For example, Shwarz is a surname with German roots in Ukraine, but Shwarzuk is a typical Ukrainian last name.

Other popular Ukrainian last name endings and suffixes are:

  • -eyko: Shumeyko, Pulupeyko;
  • -ov (-ev): ending that is popular among all common Slavic surnames – Zakharov, Sobolev, Pankov;
  • -sk (tsk): toponymical suffix, also used in other Eastern European last names (Polish, Belarusian, Czech, Bulgarian, Slovakian) – Kotsubinsky, Skoropadsky, Gorodetsky, Saksagansky;
  • -y (-yj), -oy: Karpenko-Kary, Yarovoy, Lanovoy;
  • -da: Mayboroda, Legoyda, Negoda;
  • -iy, ay: Mamay, Nechay, Poryvay;
  • -nyk: Pasichnyk, Berdnyk, Kolesnyk. Ukrainian Jewish last names also have “-nik” suffixes, as well as, suffixes “-sk, -tsk” (Homelskiy, Shklovskiy).
  • -shyn: matronymic suffix that has possessive meaning and is typical for Zakarpattya and Galicia Ukraine surnames – Fedoryshyn (Fedoryha’s son), Yatsyshyn (Yatsyha’s son) etc.

Ukrainian surnames list

Ukrainian surnames derived from occupations or activities
Ukrainian surnames Ukrainian surnames meanings and origin
Bondar Barrel maker, cooper
Bortnyk From “bort manufacturing, beekeeping”
Harmash, Pushkar Gunner
Hrabar Gravedigger, digger
Honchar (Honcharenko, Honcharuk) Potter, ceramist
Kolisnyk (Kolisnychenko) Wheels-manufacturer
Kravets (Kravchenko, Kravchuk) Tailor
Kushnir (Kushnirenko, Kushniruk) Furrier
Ovcharenko Sheepherder
Oliynyk Vegetable oil-manufacturer
Paliy Gunner in Zaporizhian Sich
Ponomarenko (Ponomarchuk) Clergyman
Plakhotnuk Plakhta-manufacturer (plakhta — traditional Ukrainian skirt)
Serdiuk Infantryman in Hetman’s troop
Skliar Glazier
Skrynnik Furniture-manufacturer
Stelmakh Carpenter
Chumak Salt-trader
Ukrainian surnames derived from nouns
Bandurko Bandura
Dolya Fate
Sereda Wednesday
Teliga Cart
Baniak Pan
Ukrainian surnames derived from names
Zakharchenko Zakhar’s son
Franko Diminutive form of Frank
Yushchenko, Yushchak From Yushko, Yuriy
Vasuchenko Vasyl’s son
Mykhailenko Mykhailo’s son
Ukrainian surnames derived from birds and animals
Gogol Goldeneye (bird)
Patsiuk Rat
Zozulia Cuckoo
Leleka Stork
Vovk Wolf

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