7 Odd European Surnames and what they mean

 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. Amongst the most interesting of them are the odd European surnames.

You surname can tell you whether your ancestors were butchers, short, or just a person who was nice enough to be granted the surname ‘Goodfellow’? However, many people’s odd European surnames, much like their place names, give away even more fascinating, bizarre and sometimes undesirable traits about their long-gone relatives. You can find some examples of these in the list below.

1) Niemandsvriend (Dutch)

The Dutch seem to be especially good at coming up with hilarious surnames, and this is a good example of one. It literally translates as “nobody’s friend”. You can’t help but feel bad for the guy who was endowed with this surname and wonder what he did so wrong to get it.

odd european Surnames: Niemandsvriend

2) Kefalas (Greek)

If you ever meet someone called Kefalas and they come across as a little arrogant, you can thank their ancestors. This Greek surname, which means “big head”, may originally have been referring to a physical trait rather than a character trait. However, it’s also funny to imagine that it could have been a punishment for those people at school who thought a little too much of themselves.

odd european Surname - Kefalas (Greek)

3) Daft (English)

English surnames are some of the funniest amongst odd European surnames. However, 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”. Around the 15th century however, the meaning became a little less positive and started to take on its current meaning of “silly” or “stupid”. So, if you find yourself calling someone “Daft by name, daft by nature” then remember, it might not be as much of an insult as you think it is!

odd european Surnames - 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 having a name meaning “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 mean to them – they’re a sensitive bunch, you see. In Polish the term translates to “person who cries a lot”. If you’re a Beksa yourself, you can blame your tears at 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 translates literally to “born naked”, which seems to be a rather obvious detail to point out. Honestly, 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)

If you’re interested in the history behind your family name, then why not find out what your surname means here.

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

Europe Language Café


  • 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…”

  • ‘Naaktgeboren’ translates to ‘born naked’ nowadays, but thats not where the name came from. Its originally meant something along the lines of ‘born after’ referring to being born after the death of your father. ‘Posthumus’ is another dutch surname that means the exact same thing.

  • One of the reasons dutch people have weird surnames is because they thought that after Napeoleon (who introduced surnames) left that it would be forgottten and just thought ‘well what the hell just think of something funny”

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