My question may seem strange since in most English-speaking countries, someone's origin is defined by their place of birth (at least that is what I think). But in Switzerland your origin is defined by where your last name originally comes from. As an example, if someone just gets Swiss nationality, the place where he is living at this moment will be his place of origin and the place of origin of his children. So for somebody who was born in New York you can say native New Yorker, right?

But in Switzerland this may be incorrect since on the ID it is the place of origin as explained above that is written. Thus would hailing from be a proper translation ?

  • You'd say 'I'm from X, but my family comes from Y' Or 'My family has roots in Y'.
    – SGR
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 14:08
  • @SRG Thanks for the suggestion. But it could be that your family never lived in that place since X generation. Then it would sound kind of strange to me...
    – Pierrick
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 14:10
  • When used in this context, 'my family' means more than just your mother and father and any spouses/children. It means your entire lineage.
    – SGR
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 14:20
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    The concept of Bürgerort / Heimatort / Heimatgemeinde as "the place your citizenship originates from" seems to be unique to Switzerland, and so if clarity were essential, I would simply use the Swiss term. There is no translation that will not require further explanation.
    – choster
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 14:32
  • @choster Thanks for the hint. I spent hours searching for a smart translation but since I didn't found anything I was expecting that it is due to the fact that the Swiss system of place origin differs from the other country that there is no proper translation at all. I will probably simply let it out of the English version of my CV.
    – Pierrick
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 19:09

4 Answers 4


The question of "where you are from" is complicated for many English-speaking people because they live in North America, where there are historical and political considerations about where you are from.

I consider myself to be "from" Canada yet my paternal grandfather was born in Britain somewhere (probably Wales). I don't consider myself "from Wales". My maternal grandparents are from Quebec; their families had lived there for several generations. At what point do they stop being "from France"?

Yet I can't call myself a "Native Canadian" without confusing some people because there are other peoples, the First Nations (or Indians) who are more commonly referred to as "Native Canadians".

Given that so many people are immigrants, or relatively recently descended from immigrants, it usually takes several questions to identify people's family backgrounds. And that is maybe one of the better terms to use: Family Background. You can ask what someone's family background is and they might have a quick answer, such as "China" or "Ireland". I still don't have a good answer for that either because it's not a simple question.

Generally there is no such thing as an official "origin" for your family that would be recorded on ID cards or other official papers, thus there aren't really any good single words or set phrases to label these origins.

Finally, your suggestion of hails from only works if the person or group in question is recently from the place you're naming. You hail from the place you were born or grew up. You could describe your family as hailing from some place, but if you're trying to say that generations ago your family "hailed from" New York, you'd have to use extra words to indicate that. "My family hails from New York" would be most likely interpreted as your parents and yourself being from New York. If your parents had never lived in New York, I'd suggest you should specify that: "My family originally hailed from New York." Hails from is not a formal term.

  • For a lot of North Americans, its narrowing down to one spot of origination that is tough. My family name is English, but my ancestry is Scottish, Welsh, English, French Huguenot, and a whole lot more! Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 15:54
  • @Michael Not just one spot: how long must you be removed from that spot before it is no longer your origin? Those British descended from the Normans, do they say they are from Normandy? etc. Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 17:20
  • @Michael Broughton: Add to that the fact that many of us neither know nor care where our ancestors came from. Indeed, I've always thought of emphasis on ancestry as being fundamentally un-American.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 17:43
  • @jamesqf - I disagree and think an interest in family history is healthy. My great-great grandfather went from Glasgow poverty to Canada's first Senate in 1867. Another Grandfather's family (protestant) fled France due to Catholic oppression only to find rampant anti-French sentiment in Britain, so on to the New World to take a chance at a better life. I don't identify as anything other than Canadian, but I'd hate to think their stories as immigrants weren't worth remembering. Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 18:05
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    @Pierrick Well, my answer did address your question: there is no concept as the official place where your family is from. Thus, there is no word for it. Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 20:12

My grandfather came from Greece, and I was born in Australia (as was my father). However, my name is Greek.

When I get quizzed on it, I say "my name originates from Greece".

If the name is not an issue, perhaps you can say

My family originates from Greece.


I would go for ancestry, lineage, or both.

My ancestry is Greece.

My family lineage is Greece.

My family's ancestral lineage is Greece.


My ancestors in this country who bear my last name came from Pennsylvania.

Their ancestors with the same name (a minor spelling difference due to immigration dept. error) came from Scotland.

And their ancestors, same name, fled Ireland.

I don't know where the Irish lot got their name.

So what is my place of origin?

(Let's not get into the fact that my 1/8 Scottish-Irish heritage is outweighed by Hungarian, German, Russian, Jewish ancestors from all over the map of Europe, who did not give me their last names).

[And if you ask me Where are you from?, I say New York.]

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