All of the above are examples of Armenian surnames that I have come across whilst researching the history of Manchester’s Armenian community at the Greater Manchester County Record Office. The suffix ‘ian’ is very common, and means ‘son of’. Like English surnames, Armenian family names are rooted in the professions, characteristics and places of distant ancestors. Take Funduklian for example, the name of the family who once lived in my current Didsbury home, back in the early 1900s:
Above: A poster I made to illustrate the meanings of the Funduklian family name (source)
I was unable to discover all of the origins of Armenians names in the archives, although those I did find were interesting. Papazian translates as “son of a priest”, whereas Topalian means “son of a cripple”. Another interesting example is Soghanyemezian – the son of one who does not eat onions! A more sinister example is Dilsizian, the son of an ancestor who had his tongue cut out by the Turks for using the Armenian language. This last name references centuries of persecution of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, which ultimately led to the Armenian Genocide in 1915.
The reliability of these definitions (based on Internet searches) is by no means concrete, and there were no Soghanyemezians or Dilsizians in Manchester. There were, however, several Papazians and Topalians. Also appearing in the Documentary Photographic Archive at the Greater Manchester County Record Office was a Mr George Charles.
Above: George Charles (source)
This doesn’t sound like an Armenian name does it? In fact Mr Charles arrived in Manchester in the 1890s as Mr Migredichian, but later married a local lady, adopted an English name and set up a fruit business in Didsbury, which he ran until his death in 1937.
Above: Mr Charles outside his shop on Burton Road, which later moved to Lapwing Lane (source)
Below: A copy of the shop’s licence (source)
So why did he change his name, when so many other Armenians living in Manchester did not? Was it was for business reasons? Personal reasons? Or both? Then again, adopting a new or amended surname when arriving in a foreign country is by no means exceptional, especially given differences in language, pronunciation etc, and in some cases, prejudiced attitudes towards ‘foreigners’.
Mr Charles’ children adopted their father’s anglicised name, and it was George’s son Ernest Charles, who donated the photographs shown in this post.
Above: A letter to Mrs Charles, from the Ernest’s brother Harry, who attended art school before serving in WWII (source)
Many of George Charles’ customers were Armenian; which is unsurprising given the large numbers of Armenians who lived in Didsbury at the time, whilst the front of his shop describes an “English and Foreign Fruiterer”. However I still find myself wondering why he changed his name, and whether any other Manchester Armenians may have done the same.