Bizannes is a family name that started in Australia because it was my grandfather, a Greek refugee from modern-day Turkey who invented it. He thought the spelling “Bizannes” would be pronounced more accurately than “Bizanis”, which is what the Greek name (Μπιζάνης) it derives from transliterates to.
What does the name Bizanis come from? No one knows for sure but my family has two theories.
- My father’s theory is that it originates from the municipality of “Bizani” in northern Greece, famous from a battle in 1913 that freed Northern Greece. As surnames in Greece commonly derived from towns people were from, trades or nicknames, it’s a reasonable hypothesis that’s otherwise based on no other evidence other than linguistic similarity and proximity (ie, Greece).
- My cousin Alex, when visiting Greece met someone and holds the theory that the name originated from Crete due to a nickname for an ancestor who couldn’t say the word for ‘suckle’ in Greek due to a lisp, “vizaini” would be pronounced “bidzaini”, and thus Bidzainis. (The spelling in Greek of Suckle is “βυζαίνω”.) This is based off a story a person my cousin met but like my father’s hypothesis, it is based on no other evidence other than a similar sound and likelihood of a nickname a common occurrence.
What’s my opinion? I don’t know. But I like evidence. Here are some of my findings that help paint clues.
- I’ve DNA matched with one family that’s in Australia and I’ve found historical records of another family in New York, of two separate men who’s name is “Bizanos”. There is a strong possibility they are directly related to my great grandfather Hariton. Why I think that is because he had a previous marriage and at least one son who fell in love with my great grandmother’s sister or Hariton’s new bride’s sister, which the (Greek Orthodox) Church prevented him from marrying. She fled to Monaco according to her families oral tradition that I learned about, and as for the son we know nothing else. But it is interesting to point out the Bizanos family in New York are not Greek Orthodox, which is unusual among Greek immigrants…
- Hariton owned hotels in Smyrna and we have a copy of some of his marketing collateral, where he referred to himself as Χαρίτου Μπιζάνου (Charitou Bizanou). So if my grandfather said our name was Bizanis and his father wrote is as Bizanou, then we know those two names are connected.
- My grandfather Elias would always claim, to my cousin Alex’s family, that we were from Crete. However, Hariton died when he was still child, and Elias maternal grandmother was from Crete which may be where this fact sits. (Alex’s mother was Cretan so there is also an implicit bias to align with this theory)
- Below is a picture by the Fortess of Bizani that I took. You will notice that in English, it’s spelt Bizani but in Greek, it’s actually Bizaniou. This is evidence of Greek grammar in action to show you how two words spelt differently are the same. Hariton spelt it Bizanou, without the i, which is likely as he was uneducated and the ‘i’ is almost silent, so I don’t blame him! This linguistic connection is what underlies my father’s hypothesis, which given the similarity of the letters, is persuasive.
- I’ve found a record of someone living in 1835 Greece with the name Δημήτριος Μπιζάνης (Demetrios Bizanis) in the south of Greece (Kalamata) and later central Greece (Thebes). My great uncle Michael de Dear, Hariton’s brother and who started the de Dear family in Australia, has a record saying his father was “Demetrios”. This man I discovered had three children, and the timelines match Michael’s and Hariton’s lives, so I’m have confidence this is a direct ancestor of mine.
- The fort of Bizani, has a US congress report in 1913 calling it Fort Bezhani and the historian Allan Brooks in 2013 says Fort Bizani is the Greek name for Fort Bijan.
- In Eastern Turkey, in the Kurdish-dominated area of Van, has a town called Bizani. Mastung is the Balochistan province Pakistan, too.
- If you type in “Bizani” into Google Translate, the Artificial Intelligence engine thinks it’s a Uzbek word and other times a Kurdish (kurmanji) word. Kurmanji is a Kurdish dialect from the 16th century, a language which derives from Farsi. Uzbek is a Turkish language.
- The Greek alphabet does not have a letter for “B”, so the sound needs to be made with two letters: “M” and “P” so “MP” is how Greeks made a English “B” sound. However, Turkish, Kurdish and Uzbek have a “B” letter and sound. Suggesting “Bizani” or Μπιζάνη is not a native Greek word and may have been introduced during the Ottoman occupation.
- Bijan or Bizhan, is a name that derives from one of the main Iranian heroes in the Shahnameh, the national epic of Greater Iran. It’s a Persian name for “Hero”
- In Kurdish, and according to Wikipedia, the word zanîn (“to know”) is also in a different tense bízanî
- The speakers of Hassaniyya, also called Bizan (Bizani for singular) are an Arab Bedouin tribe that originated from Yemen in the 13th century and that represent million of speakers of this dialect today (Mauritania alone is 2.5m)
- My Y-Chromosone is matching with someone who is Greek (more than anyone else) on the DNA testing site Y-full, and he’s from the South of Greece near Kalamata (the Mani peninsula), but who’s name derives from something totally different. This means whatever surname my ancestors had in the 1800s was likely not that 100-1000 years earlier.
- He thinks his name derives from the word for pirate, a common occupation of Greeks from that part of modern Greece during the 1453-1820 Ottoman occupation
- By the way, below are all the men who share my Y-Chomosone subclabe. The top result in my son, and the man in question is result number three, which as you can see is so similar that we may only be a few generations apart.
So the name Bizannes is also the name Bizanis. Which may also be the name Bizanos. And also Bizanou or Bizaniou. Which is the origin of the de Dear family name. And before all that, there were some pirates. These families in New York, Melbourne, South Australia, Sydney, and many in Greece who derive origin from these names — where does the name come from?
Despite being my father’s son, I have to say, his hypothesis is linguistically more persuasive. And based on the above, the facts support that the Fort of Bizani was named due to possible Kurdish forces naming it after an Iranian folk hero or the word “to know”. (Kurds were a big part of the Ottoman Empire’s forces back in its hey day.) For context, it’s a fort on top of a mountainous region. Given the Shahnameh is partly a love story of Bijan capturing a beautiful girl and winning a great battle against her father, that sounds very believable that a Fort would be named after this “hero”. And a fort up high overlooking an area, very much resonates to be called “to know”. Given the majority of my extended family are educated know-it-alls with balls of steel, I say the genes validate that.
But do I think my paternal lineage originated from that area? Well, if you read your history it’s not hard to find that the Mani peninsula has close ties with Crete. So with my best lisp impression, I’m going say this as heroically and all knowingly as I can: “to be continued…”
Last updated: March 8, 2022.