[noun sur-neym; verb sur-neym, sur-neym]


the name that a person has in common with other family members, as distinguished from a Christian name or given name; family name.
a name added to a person's name, as one indicating a circumstance of birth or some characteristic or achievement; epithet.

verb (used with object), sur·named, sur·nam·ing.

to give a surname to; call by a surname.

Origin of surname

1300–50; Middle English (noun); see sur-1, name; modeled on Old French surnom
Related formsun·sur·named, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for surname

Contemporary Examples of surname

Historical Examples of surname

  • She had never known the surname, and on two of the cards "Ph." appeared.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • The signature was extended in full, with the surname blackly underlined.

    The Cavalier

    George Washington Cable

  • This is the surname of several renowned gastronomers of old Rome.

  • They called him Anarchisto de Barcelona, as if it were his Christian name and surname.

    A Set of Six

    Joseph Conrad

  • “Whatever your surname may be, it makes no difference to me,” was his reply.

    The White Lie

    William Le Queux

British Dictionary definitions for surname



Also called: last name, second name a family name as opposed to a first or Christian name
(formerly) a descriptive epithet attached to a person's name to denote a personal characteristic, profession, etc; nickname


(tr) to furnish with or call by a surname
Derived Formssurnamer, noun

Word Origin for surname

C14: via Anglo-French from Old French surnom. See sur- 1, name
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for surname

early 14c., "name, title, or epithet added to a person's name," from sur "above" (see sur-) + name (n.); modeled on Anglo-French surnoun "surname" (early 14c.), variant of Old French surnom, from sur "over" + nom "name."

An Old English word for this was freonama, literally "free name." Meaning "family name" is first found late 14c. Hereditary surnames existed among Norman nobility in England in early 12c., among common people began to be used 13c., increasingly frequent until near universal by end of 14c. The process was later in the north of England than the south. The verb is attested from 1540s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper