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Multiple Origins of the Surname JAMES
Most people assume that the surname James comes from the English given name James, which is the Welsh or Cornish form of the Biblical name Jacob; and this is usually true. But there are exceptions, and this page is devoted to them.
I welcome any information on these or other exceptional variants of the James surname. Please E-mail me at
In the Breton language, a Celtic tongue still spoken in parts of northwestern France, the name James (pronounced zha-mess) is the local variant of the Biblical name Jacob. This is similar to Cornish, a language very close to Breton. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many Bretons migrated to southeastern Canada and New York, bringing the name with them and eventually Anglicizing its pronunciation.
I would be happy to post lineages, or links to lineages, for James families from Brittany.
The German variant
German immigrants to the United States who bore the surname Jacobi or Jacoby often Anglicized it to James. The examples of this of which I am aware come from Pennsylvania.
I would be happy to post lineages, or links to lineages, for James families from Germany.
The Slavic variant
This is my variant, and to the best of my knowledge, my family is the only example of it. It goes like this:
In most Slavic countries, surnames changed from one generation to the next. If your father's given name was Ivan, then your surname was Ivanoff or Ivanov ("son of Ivan") or Ivanova ("daughter of Ivan"). My great-grandfather's name was Dimitri Rouzi; his sons should therefore have taken the surname Dimitrov. It was his idea to send his three sons to America, although he himself never left his hometown of Lagen. Since his sons would, by tradition, be compelled to use his given name as a surname, he decided to choose an English one, and chose Jimmy because (according to one of his grandsons) it sounded like Dimi, nickname for Dimitri. That is how his sons Criss, Philip, and Naum (my grandfather) came to be known as the James brothers. You can trace Dimitri Rouzi's descendants, including everyone who bears the Slavic James surname, here.
There is an interesting side story about Dimitri's surname Rouzi (or Ruzhi). The name means, of course, "son of Ruzha" -- but Ruzha is a girl's name ("Heather" in English). Dimitri's father was named Lazo; but Lazo died as a young man, leaving his wife Ruzha with six children. Over the years, the indomitable Ruzha developed such respect in the town of Lagen that her brood came to be known as the Rouzi family, rather than the Lazov family. This was in the late nineteenth century, when the fashion for permanent family surnames was just beginning to take hold in the south Slavic world. I have an envelope addressed to my grandfather - not to Naum James, or even to Naum Dimitrov, but to Naum Rouzi, which means the Rouzi name had stuck for at least two generations. Had it not been for my great-grandfather's "Jimmy" idea, my family today would probably still be surnamed Rouzi, a rare example of Slavic matronymy.
Where is Lagen? In Ruzha's and Dimitri's time, it was part of the Ottoman Empire, but as that empire broke up during the Balkan Wars of 1908 to 1914, it was fought over by Turks, Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, and Macedonians -- which is, of course, precisely why the three James brothers left. Today the town lies in northern Greece, and its name has been changed to Triantifillia.
You are visitor number to the James page since 11 October 1999.