I know little to nothing about Serbia or its history, so my information would appear to be shaky. Nonetheless, the legacy that Karađorđe would leave behind would elicit enough interest from me to write about it.
He was born to a family of commoners, with his father being a highwayman. He spent his childhood developing resilience by being shown wild beasts in the wilderness and having to fend against cold and hunger, particularly since they lived in poverty.
After moving around in the Serbian region, fleeing persecution from the janissaries of the Ottoman Empire and eking out a livelihood by serving various landlords, he eventually joined the Free Corps. There, he would develop military experience in western Serbia fighting against the janissaries. He would later be promoted by Selim III to be a commander of one hundred men. He would later be able to contribute to the revolution that would declare Serbia an independent nation.
He was eventually known as Karađorđe, which means Black George, because of his dark hair and his harsh demeanor in the Serbian Revolutionary Army. According to David MacKenzie, his “violent nature” was enough to win over the other revolutionaries to become leader over them, and because he was a commoner and not a member of the Serbian aristocracy, clergy, or rich merchants.
Of course, the Karađorđevic dynasty would be at odds with the Obrenovic dynasty for many years after independence. Karađorđe did not anticipate to use his own cognomen as his dynastic name, rather his family did. Alexander Karađorđevic is a descendant who wishes to return to Serbia and reinstate the monarchy with the Serbian people’s consent.
The use of cognomens as surname is not uncommon, since it can be found all over the world. Littlejohn is an example of this type of surname, as well as the Scottish surname Gilchrist which means “servant of Christ.”
It is interesting how such a unique noble family came to be, particularly since it reflected off not some ancient legends or supposed relations to great heroes, rather from someone directly from the Serbian people.
Jelavich, Charles; Jelavich, Barbara (2000). The Establishment of the Balkan National States, 1804–1920. 8 (4th ed.). Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press. ISBN 978-0-29580-360-9.
Mackenzie, David (1996b). “The Serbian Warrior Myth and Serbia’s Liberation, 1804–1815”(PDF). Journal of the North American Society for Serbian Studies. Bloomington, Indiana: Slavica Publishers. 10 (2): 133–149. ISSN 0742-3330. Archived from the original (PDF)