Basque surnames refer to surnames with a Basque-language origin or a
long, identifiable tradition in the Basque Country. They can be
divided into two main types, patronymic and non-patronymic.
The patronymics such as Munioitz, Santxez or Santxitz, and Diaitz
(Spanish spellings: Muñoz, Sánchez, and Díaz) are the most common
and ancient. The Basque monarchy, including the first king of
Iñigo Iñigitz, or Eneko Aritza, were the first to use this
type of surname. Patronymics are by far the most common surnames in
the whole of the Basque Autonomic Community and Navarra.
The non-patronyic surnames are often toponymic ones that 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. They also referred to the occupation of the head
of the family such as Olaberria (new smith) or Salaberria (new
farm/farmer) or could describe where their home was such as Elizondo
(by the church).
1.1 Oldest records
1.2 Medieval names
1.3 Upper nobility
2 Grammar and orthography
4 Types and composition
5 Recognising Basque non-patronymic surnames
6 See also
6.1 Significant Basque surnames
9 External links
The earliest documented
Basque surnames occur on Aquitanian
inscriptions from the time of the
Roman conquest of Hispania
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, stem augmented
by -N) > Enekoitz.
Also SEMBECONNIS, possibly a derivative of the later surname Jimenez
(Scemeno attested in the 8–9th century). V(alerius) BELTESONIS
(probable coinage from beltz 'black', less likely linked to bele/bela
'crow') engraved on the stella of Andriarriaga located in Oiartzun
bears witness to a mixture of Roman and Vasconic tradition in the
local aristocracy during the Antiquity.
García, one of the most frequent Spanish surnames, was originally a
Basque first name stemming from Basque gartzea, 'the young'. Medieval
Basque names follow this descriptive naming pattern about the person,
pointing to physical features ("Gutia", "Motza", "Okerra", "Ezkerro",
"Zuria", etc.), family relations or geographical origin, e.g. Eneko
(Spanish Íñigo) may be a hypocoristic mother-to-child addressing,
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, or the other way round, with an
early medieval prevalence all around the Pyrenees and west into the
Cantabrian Mountains. It is now a surname, like its akin "Otxotorena"
('little wolf's house', or possibly 'little wolf's wife'),:144, so
similar in meaning to Spanish "Lopez" (regional variants "Lopes",
"Lupiz", etc.). "Velasco" was a name, later to become a surname,
derived from Basque "belasko", 'small raven'. "Aznar" is a medieval
Basque, Gascon and
Spanish surname arguably based on old Basque
"azenari", 'fox' (modern Basque "azeri", cf. old Basque "Zenarrutza"
vs. modern Basque "Ziortza").:63
The non-patronymic, descriptive 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).[clarification needed] 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 patronymics are derived from the father through the
suffix -ez, -oz, -iz or -az which means 'of'. The Basque language also
expresses family links with the genitive suffix -(r)ena, e.g.
Perurena, Arozena, etc., meaning 'belonging to'.
The first king of Navarre, Íñigo Arista of Pamplona, is said to hail
from the lineage of
Iñigo (Eneko). While the use of -ez was the norm
amongst the monarchs of Pamplona and the Lords of Biscay, the first
record we have of the use of -ez in the monarchs of Leon is through
the consort queens from Navarre: Jimena of Asturias, Oneca of Pamplona
or Urraca Fernández.
Marital alliances between the Christian kingdoms of Leon and Navarre
were typical in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries in order to protect
themselves from the southern Islamic attacks. Proof is the fact that
Alfonso V of León
Alfonso V of León was mainly of Basque-Navarrese origin
through his mother Elvira García and his paternal grandmother Urraca
On the other hand, the first king of Aragón, Ramiro I of Aragon, was
son of Sancho III of Navarre, grandson of García Sánchez II of
Pamplona and great-grandson of Sancho Garcés II of Pamplona, all of
them kings of
Navarre who used the suffix -ez and that could have
introduced it in this region.
As a result of the Reconquista, the
Douro basin was repopulated, most
probably by people mainly coming from Navarre, Biscay, Cantabria or
Alava, who used the suffix -ez. Furthermore, it is possible that many
of the most common patronymic
Spanish surnames are not only of
Basque-Navarrese origin, but also of royal and aristocratic
background. It is logical to assume that the royal families from Leon,
Navarre, Aragón and the aristocracy of Biscay,
Alava or La Rioja
would have had larger numbers of offspring than the regular population
given their greater financial means and longer life expectancy.
Grammar and orthography
The grammar of the patronymic endings -ez, -iz or -oz is very similar
to that of their use to denote origin or content such as egurrez (made
of wood), harriz (made of stone) or ardoz bete (full of wine). In
Basque, -z is added to the end of the word if it ends in vowel (as in
Muñoz, offspring of Munio) or -ez if the word ends in consonant (as
in Antúnez, offspring of Anton). This grammar structure is not always
the case in the patronymic surnames, e.g., González, offspring of
Gonzalo. However, in documents of the 10th, 11th and 12th century
linked to the Monastery of Santa Maria de Nájera, we find old
versions of these surnames such as Galindoz, Enecoz, Albaroz,
Ordonioz, Munioz de
Alava o Lopiz de Bizcaya. It is possible that the
proper Basque grammar of the patronymic was lost as its use was
extended south of the Basque country.
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,
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
decrease, especially in Spain, taking on a form in accordance with the
meaning of the surname in Basque, which remains irrelevant in other
Note that in the French-based spellings the D is unhistoric and
represents the French partitive particle d' "of".
Relieve with the names of the farmhouses of Getxo, on the wall of
Saint Mary's church.
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' generations.
The founder of Basque nationalism, Sabino Arana, demanded a certain
Basque surnames from his followers in order to reject
those of mixed Basque-Spanish descent.
Alava and west of
Navarre a distinctive formula has been followed,
with the surname being composite, i.e. [a first title of Castilian
origin; usually a patronymic which uses the Basque suffix -ez] + 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 Basque
Nationalist Party (PNV/EAJ) supporters but has largely fallen out of
These descriptive surnames can become very long. The family will
probably be known by a short form or a nickname. The longest Basque
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 non patronymic surnames fall into two
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
Surnames from either category are formed using nouns, adjectives, a
number of suffixes and endings such as the absolutive ending -a, the
adjectival suffix -ko, and the genitive ending -ren. An example of the
second class are Martinikorena ("Martinico's [house]", Martinico being
a Navarrese hypocorism for Martin). Another would be Mikelena,
The following examples all relate to the location of the family home.
(h)arri "stone" + gorri "red" + aga "place of" + -ko "of" + -a "the"
the one of the place of the red stones
(h)arotz "smith/carpenter" + -tegi "place"
bide "way" + arte "between"
between the ways
bolu "mill" + ibar "valley"
elke "vegetable garden" + no "small"
small vegetable garden
eliza "church" + ondo "nearby"
near the church
etxe "house" + handi "big"
etxe "house" + arte "between"
etxe "house" + berri "new"
goi "high place" + etxe "house"
high lying house
ibai "river" + guren "edge"
lekhu "place" + barri "new"
lohi "mud" + -ola "place"
Marinela "sailor" + suffix "rena"
the sailor's (home/son)
mendi "mountain" + luze "long"
the long mountain
mendi "mountain" + hotza "cold"
ur "water" + bero "hot" + -aga "place of"
the place of the hot water
the wide one
zubi "bridge" + ondo "nearby"
near the bridge
ene- "mine", -ko (hypocristic)
my little (love/dear)
Recognising Basque non-patronymic surnames
Basque non patronymic 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
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.
inner, lowest. Often in a pair with goien
berry, varri, verría, verry
eliç(e), elic(e), eliss, elex, elej
ech, eche, etche
arquiñigo, erquiñigo, iñigo, necochea, yñigo
çabal, zábal, zaval
Ocho apellidos vascos
Significant Basque surnames
Basque surnames that are well-known or famous around the
Biskarret / Sp: Viscarrat
Etxeberri / Sp: Echeverria
Nafarro / Fr: Navarre, Sp: Navarro
Orzabal / Sp: Órtiz
Semen / Sp: Jiménez
Zatarain (or Katarain)
Zubiria (or Zufiria)
^ "Nombres: Eneko".
Euskaltzaindia (The Royal Academy of the Basque
Language). Retrieved 2009-04-23. Article in Spanish
^ a b c d e f Michelena, L. (1973) Apellidos vascos (5th edition),
^ "Colección documental Santa María de Najera" (PDF).
^ a b 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,
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,