7 odd European surnames and what they mean

Surnames can tell you a lot about your family history. It can divulge incredible insights into what your ancestors did, looked like or the personality traits they had. Were they butchers, were they short, or just a person who was nice enough to be granted the surname ´Goodfellow´?

However, many people’s surnames give away even more fascinating, bizarre and sometimes undesirable traits about their long-gone relatives, some examples of which you will find in the list below.

If you don’t already know, then why not find out what your surname means here.

 

1) Niemandsvriend (Dutch)

The Dutch seem to be especially good at coming up with hilarious surnames, and here is a great one. It literally translates as “nobody´s friend”. If only Mr Popular had helped with the turnip harvest all those years ago; now his descendants are doomed to endure a slightly more difficult time at school than they could have had.

Surname: Niemandsvriend

2) Kefalas (Greek)

If you ever meet someone called Kefalas and they come across as a little arrogant, then maybe cut them a little slack; they have an excuse, and that is that it´s in their genes. This Greek surname, which means “big head”, may originally have been referring to a physical trait rather than a character trait, but I like to think that it was a punishment for someone who thought a little too much of themselves.

Surname - Kefalas (Greek)

3) Daft (English)

There are plenty of interesting surnames in English – I’ve always chuckled at Neville Longbottom, from the Harry Potter books – but one that has taken an unfortunate turn from its originally benevolent roots, is Daft. Back in the day, “daft” was a synonym for “gentle” or “mild”, but around the 15th century the meaning became a little less positive and started to mean, as it does today, “silly” or “stupid”. So, if you find yourself calling someone “Daft by name, daft by nature” then remember, that´s not necessarily true!

Surname - Daft (English)

4) Bosý (Czech)

Czech out this surname! Sorry, couldn’t resist… Personally I like this name because it sounds like “bossy” and being bossy is quite a common and comical personality trait. The surname actually means “barefoot”, probably in reference to monks who apparently believed shoes to be overrated.

Surname - Bosý (Czech)

5) Kotzab (German)

If your surname is Kotzab, or one of the many variations, then you must be sick of people calling you “Vomit”…get it?! How this German surname came about is anyone’s guess. My guess, however, is that hundreds of years ago, a Kotzab ancestor had a particularly heavy night on the ale and threw up all over the Great Hall. I imagine humorous moustaches were drawn on him too, and a family reputation was cemented.

Surname - Kotzab (German)

6) Beksa (Polish)

If you know any Beksas, then I would probably avoid being too means to them – they’re a sensitive bunch, you see. In Polish the term translates to “person who cries a lot”. Maybe you are a Beksa yourself, and you can blame your inability to cope with the end of Titanic on one particularly soppy ancestor.

Surname - Beksa (Polish)

7) Naaktgeboren (Dutch)

It has become clear to me that the Dutch have a very good time when thinking of surnames (see more here). This one, for which you may need to seek help when pronouncing, translates literally to “born naked”, which seems to be a rather unnecessary detail to point out, and I’m not quite sure why everyone isn’t called Naaktgeboren. Either way, it has become clear that the Dutch should be in charge of naming people from now on.

Surname - Naaktgeboren (Dutch)

Do you have any hilarious additions to the list? Drop them in the comments!

2 thoughts on “7 odd European surnames and what they mean

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  • 02/02/2017 at 7:16 pm
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    I’m Dutch, 39 years old and I’ve never met anyone by the name of Niemandsvriend. But in the area where I grew up the surname Niemandsverdriet (translated: ‘nobody’s sorrow’) is still very common.
    Regarding the other Dutch name featured in this article (Naaktgeboren, ‘born naked’), I’ve got a little story. My own surname isn’t too lovely either. I won’t reveal it, but ‘fart’ would come close as a translation. I used to say: “Only if my husband is called Naaktgeboren, I won’t take on his name. Other than that, anything’s better than Fart…”

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