What's in a Name? Surname Tradition in Turkey

Posted on April 5, 2014

Surname Tradition in Turkey

Name analysis is a valuable method of evaluating cultural origin and most of us will consciously or sub-consciously wonder about the origin of an unusual name.  But sometimes we find that the centuries-old tradition of using family names has a relatively short history.  Like in the case of Turkish names.

Turkey features an ancient geography.  To the east, its largest region was once known as Anatolia.  Across the continental divide lies Thrace.  For centuries, Turkey has been home to Albanians, Arabs, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Slavic peoples, Iranian peoples (including Kurds) and more.  With its long history, it may seem surprising that, in Turkey, full names have only recently included a surname.

Unlike their Christian and Jewish counterparts, Muslim Turks did not use family names.  Those within the Ottoman Empire were known by a descriptive profession title (Pasha, Bey, etc).  More commonly, a handle was adopted with the father’s name as its origin (eg.  Özden oğlu Mehmet, meaning Mehmet’s son Özden).

It was not until 1934, when the newly founded Republic of Turkey under Atatürk passed a Law of Family Names where all citizens were compelled to adopt a surname.  Certain names with connotations of foreign cultures, nations, tribes, and religions were not permitted.  This “Turkification” left some ethnic groups needing to adopt versions of their existing name to comply.

At birth, usually one or two names are given to children.  Often the second name is in Romanised Arabic to signify religion.  Many Islamic names are Turkified – for example Muhammed becomes Mehmet.  The ten most common Turkish names found in Australia reflect a mix of Turkish and Turkified names.

First Names Family Names
Mehmet Mehmet
Ali Osman
Mustafa Hasan
Fatma Gormen
Ahmet Yilmaz
Ayse Sahin
Emine Dogan
Huseyin Mani
Murat Aydin
Hatice Ozturk

That means a name of Turkish origin can reveal more than geography.  Close analysis can also point to a traditional heritage rooted in one of Turkey’s long-standing religious or ethnic cultures.

Today, around 30,000 Australians were born in Turkey and the community is renowned for its strong cultural identity and close proximity to friends and extended family.

Back to blog