Tag Archives: names

Variations in Jewish Given Names

I’ve written about Jewish given names before, but I wanted to look at a different aspect in this article. The main thing I’d like to point out is that given names change over time, and someone might be known as one name in one location and as something else after moving to another country, or even another town. Sometimes, for example, a name changed by an immigrant is easy to guess at, since the name has a clear equivalent in the new country. What happens when the equivalent is not considered a good name when the person arrives? Pinkhas is a Hebrew name which is fine in Hebrew, but the anglicized version is Phineas (not so popular). So what name might an immigrant have taken? Philip? Paul? It could be anything. However, that misses the point that sometimes we are staring at a name and have no idea what name it is actually. For example, I had a gg-grandfather whose first name was Shubsa. I didn’t know what name that was, and in the US he went by Sam. Sam is short for Samuel, or in Hebrew Shmuel. Is Shubse some kind of Yiddish nickname for Shmuel? Actually, it’s a Yiddish pronunciation of a variant of Shabbtai, a totally different name. There’s a derivation there which can be discovered, but it’s not the most obvious derivation to someone who doesn’t know Yiddish and is unfamiliar with the name. Indeed, for my gg-grandfather there was no easy English equivalent (such as someone name Yitzkhok going by Isaac, or someone named Yishai going by Jesse), which is why he went by Sam.

I’ve created a chart below that takes a small sampling of names, and compares what they look like in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and of course English. For English, I’ve given two versions which are the Anglicized version (i.e. the version likely to appear in an English-language bible and to be used by people in English-speaking countries today) and the transliterated version of the original Hebrew name (used by some religious Jewish people even today instead of the Anglicized version, but is mainly there to illustrate the difference between the Anglicized version and the original).

In the case of Yiddish and Polish names, there are many other possibly variations for many of the names listed. I’ve tried to list either the most commonly used and the most clearly different names (i.e. ones you would be unlikely to track backward to the original without help). Don’t hold me to being consistent with my transliteration of the Yiddish and Polish names. My goal was to make them readable, not consistent.

A few more notes. I use the letter-pair kh to represent the Hebrew letter Khet (ח). In English the more common pairing to use for spelling is actually ch, such as in Chanukah, although for the same reason Chanukah is frequently spelled Hanukah instead (because in English we reserve the ch pairing for a totally different sound, such as in the word ‘chair’) I use the pairing kh which is distinct from h, but cannot be confused with the sound we normally use for ch. This is why I write ‘Rakhael’ for the Hebrew transliteration of Rachel, but put ‘Rachel’ in parenthesis since in fact most women who bear this name write it as ‘Rachel’ even if they pronounce it as ‘Rakhael’. In fact, I’ve seen some people write their name as Rachael, which is a mix of those approaches (yet something which doesn’t help people to pronounce the name correctly).

Transliterated Hebrew Transliterated Yiddish Polish Name(s) Hebrew Gn
Aaron Aharon (Aron) Arn/Oren Aron אַהֲרֹן M
Abigael Avigayil Avigayl Abigail אֲבִיגַיִל F
Abraham Avraham Avrom/Avrum Abram אַבְרָהָם M
Alexander Alexander Sander/Sender Szandor אַלֶכְּסַנְדְר M
Anna/Hannah Chana Khane/Knanke Hanka/Hania חַנָּה F
Daniel Daniyel Danil/Donye Danilo/Danek דָּנִיֵּאל M
Deborah Devora Devorye/Dvoshe Dworja דְּבוֹרָה F
Ephraim Ephraim Efroyim/Froyke Efrem/Akram אֶפְרָיִם M
Eliezer Eliezer Elieyzer/Leyzer Lejzor אֱלִיעֶזֶר M
Elizabeth Elisheva Elisheve Elzbieta/Elka אֱלִישֶׁבַע F
Eve Chava Khave Chawa/Ewa/Ewka חַוָּה F
Gabriel Gavriel Gavriel/Gavrilik Gabor/Gabrys גַבְרִיאֵל M
Isaiah Yehoshua Ishaye/Shaye Izajasz יְשַׁעְיָהוּ M
Isaac Yitzchak Ayzik/Itskhok/Izak/Itzik Izaak/Icchok/Icek יִצְחָק M
Israel Yisroel Isroel/Srulik Izrael/Iser/Srul יִשְׂרָאֵל M
Jacob Yakov Yankef/Yankel Jakub/Jankiel/Kuba יַעֲקֹב M
Jeremiah/Jeremy Yirmiyahu Yirmiya/Irmye Jeremiasz יִרְמְיָהוּ M
Joel Yo’el Yoyel Joil/Jowel יוֹאֵל M
Jonah Yonah Yona/Yoyne/Yavne Jonasz יוֹנָה M
Jonathan Yonatan Yehoynosn Jonatan יוֹנָתָן M
Joseph Yoseph Yoysef/Yose/Yosl Jozef/Josel יוֹסֵף M
Joshua Yehoshua Yehoshue/Yoshue/Hesyl Jozue/Gowsiej/Hojsza/Szyja יְהוֹשֻׁעַ M
Judah Yehuda Yehude Juda/Judka/Idel יְהוּדָה M
Leah Leah Leye/Laya Leja/Lejka לֵאָה F
Matthew Mattityahu Mates Maciej/Maciek/Mateusz מַתִּתְיָהוּ M
Michael Mikha’el (Michael) Mikhoel/Mikhke Michal/Michalek/Michas מִיכָאֵל M
Moses Moshe Moyshe Mojzesz/Mosko/Moszka מֹשֶׁה M
Nathaniel Natan’el Nisanel/Sanel/Sanyek Natanael/Sanel נְתַנְאֵל M
Obadiah Ovadiah Ovadye/Vadye Abdiasz עֹבַדְיָה M
Rachel Rakhael (Rachel) Rokhl/Rokhe Rachela/Ruchla/Rechel רָחֵל F
Rebecca Rivka Rifke/Rive Rywka/Rebeka/Rysza רִבְקָה F
Reuben Reuven Ruven/Ruvn/Rubin Ruben רְאוּבֵן M
Samson Shimshon Shimshen/Shimshl Szymszon/Samson/Szymszel שִׁמְשׁוֹן M
Samuel Shmuel Shmuel/Shmul/ Szmul/Sam/Samek שְׁמוּאֵל M
Sarah Sara Sore/Sorke/Tserl Sara/Sura/Cyra שָׂרָה F
Saul Shaul Shoyel/Shaul Saul/Szoel/Szawel/Zavel שָׁאוּל M
Simon Shimon Shimen Szymon/Szymen/Zymel שִׁמְעוֹן M
Solomon Shlomo Shloyme/Zalman Salomon/Szloma/Zalman שְׁלֹמֹה M
Susanna Shoshana Shoshane/Shoshe Szoszana/Zuzanna/Szosa שׁוֹשַׁנָּה F

As an aside, I wanted to point out a street sign I noticed the other day while walking in Jerusalem:

Shimeon St. in Jerusalem, Israel

If one were to transliterate the Hebrew name properly, it would be Shimon St. In English, however, the name was anglicized into Simeon, or Simon. Somehow the person determining the proper name in English combined the proper transliteration (including the Sh sound instead of S) but also included the anglicized contribution of -eon from Simeon, even though that sound doesn’t exist in the original Hebrew. It was actually this sign which put the idea in my head to write this article.

I give the city a hard time, and indeed the mis-named streets are a long-running joke among native English-speakers in Israel (as are mis-spelled and mis-translated restaurant menus), but they have gotten better over the years. I once noticed a street that had three different English spellings on three different street signs for the street, including two different spellings on different sides of the same sign. They later changed them to all be the same.

My favorite street in Jerusalem is Abraham Lincoln St., where in Hebrew they pronounce the silent l, and get something like Avraham Linko-lin. Try to pronounce that name with the correct English pronunciation to a taxi driver, and you won’t get anywhere. Pronounce it Linko-lin and you’re golden.

I should add that these examples (besides being amusing) are intended to help you realize that just like government bureaucrats in these cases didn’t bother to spend the time to find the correct spelling or pronunciation of a name, when one’s ancestors were traveling through Europe, getting on ships, arriving in the US, similar bureaucrats may also have not spelled things correctly. Also, while we are pretty strict with spelling these days, it was not a sacrosanct a hundred years ago.

For more information on Jewish given names, there are some very good books and web sites available. Here are a few books:

Beider, Alexander. A Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names: Their Origins, Structure, Pronunciation, and Migrations. Bergenfield, NJ: Avotaynu, 2001. 728pgs

Hoffman, William F., and George W. Helon. First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins & Meanings. Chicago: Polish Genealogical Society of America, 1998. 426pgs

Gorr, Shmuel, and Chaim Freedman. Jewish Personal Names: Their Origin, Derivation, and Diminutive Forms. Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, 1992. 128pgs

Feldblyum, Boris. Russian Jewish Given Names. Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, 1998. 152pgs

Cohn, Rella Israly. Yiddish Given Names: a Lexicon. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2008. 432pgs

A few notes on the books:

Beider’s Dictionary (and its less expensive Handbook version) is really an amazing resource, but keep in mind when using it that it does not attempt to bring any modern context to the names. For all intents and purposes it ends its look at the names mentioned around 150 years ago. This is not a criticism, just an acknowledgement that the book does not try to look at the evolution of the names into the 20th century. It is still incredibly useful, but you will not find any information in the book about modern usage or changes in the names.

Hoffman and Helon’s book on Polish names is a great book and a bargain. It is a publication of the Polish Genealogical Society of America, and is not specifically Jewish, but it has broad coverage of Jewish names, and shows the Jewish roots of many Polish names. It points out the different pronunciations and spellings of names that came from different regions, and when there is a specific Jewish version it generally points it out.

Gorr’s book, which was finished after his death by Freedman, is certainly not as scientific a look at the history of given names as Beider’s, but it is nonetheless very important as a look at the actual usage of many of the names listed in this brief work. Unlike Beider whose name variations are shown using transliteration, Gorr’s book shows the variations with the original Yiddish (in Hebrew lettering) and transliteration. Considering the difference in spelling between Hebrew and Yiddish, this is a very useful feature of the book. It’s a short book, but with some great information.

Feldblyum’s book on Russian names has the most interesting story behind the book. It is largely based on a Russian book published in 1911 by Iser Kulisher in Zhitomir, Ukraine. The book was intended to help government bureaucrats make sense of all the variations of Jewish given names. This was a serious problem, as people were forbidden to change their name as recorded at their birth. If they were listed in a document with even the slightest variation of their name, the listing was considered a different person. To use an example from the book, if a tax list showed that Moshe paid his taxes, but his name in another register was listed as Mojshe, then he could be taxed again.

Cohn’s book on Yiddish names, like Gorr’s, was also published posthumously. As an academically published book it is incredibly expensive (listed at $165). For that price, you get much less than the much larger, more comprehensive (and at $85 cheaper) Beider book (or even in some ways the $29 Handbook). The introductory essays of the book are good, but the lexicon itself is a bit frustrating. For example, for a book on Yiddish names, it doesn’t actually include the original Yiddish spellings in the book at all, only transliterations. Truthfully, Beider doesn’t include the names in their original Yiddish either, but at least he references the Hebrew names they are based on (in Hebrew) and provides an index of the Yiddish names in Hebrew letters in the back of the book. Cohn offers an index of Hebrew names as well, but oddly transliterates those too. Her index of English names and the Yiddish equivalents is useful. I wonder if some of these shortcomings would have been fixed if Cohn had lived to finish the book herself instead of having it finished after her death.

For web sites, one place to look is the Given Name Data Bases (GNDBs) at JewishGen. Truthfully, this database drives me nuts. It appears to have been last updated in 2003. You can search for ‘European’ names or ‘Foreign Names’ which means, for example you can search for names that were from Poland which is European and see what people changed their names to in the United States which is Foreign. In reverse, you can choose a Foreign country and see name changes to a European country. The records that you see are as varied as the people who filled out the information that makes up the database. Some records provide many alternate names, some don’t. It would seem the database is in need of a major overhaul, and merging into a single database would be a nice start. Also, beyond this major limitation, it doesn’t actually tell you the origin of the names, but only what the person who filled out their individual information filled out. The information therefore can be very useful for trying to figure out what someone named Berish who lived in Romania and moved to Argentina might have changed their name to (Bernardo) but it’s more hit-or-miss when trying to just find out about the name Berish (you nee to pick European/Foreign pairs to search and hope you get lucky).

A general site on given names called Behind the Name, has a section on Jewish names which is very useful. The site shows the etymology and history of names, and will show the language of original (Hebrew or Yiddish for example). If the name was originally in Hebrew or Yiddish, the site will also give you the name in Hebrew letters.

Another useful site, believe it or not, is Wikipedia. Obviously it’s not consistent on how it deals with names, but there are many Wikipedia entries on given names. Try searching for a name and add ‘given name’ to the search. For example, see these entries for Israel (name) and Rebecca (given name).

What’s your favorite name story? What name did it take years for you to decipher? Post your stories in the comments.

Animals and Name Pairs in Jewish Given Names

This article is a brief look at two common historic Jewish naming patterns, and how they intersect. The first naming pattern is the use of animal names from Hebrew and/or Yiddish. The second pattern is giving two related names to a child.

Illustration from Worth1000.com

In some cases when given two names the names constituted a shem kodesh (holy name, used in religious functions) and a kinui (secular name, used in the world at large). When doing genealogical research on your family, you may sometimes run across the shem kodesh (i.e. on an all-Hebrew gravestone) and at another time run into the person’s kinui (i.e. in a newspaper article) and not realize that they are in fact the same person. Some records will, if you’re lucky, record the both names as first and middle names for a person, but sometimes there is only one. Knowing how names are sometimes paired together can help you connect the dots in your research. Another important point is that if you do run across a document that lists both a first and middle name for a Jewish ancestor, they might have only publicly been know by the middle name (which could have been their kinui). Thus if you find a reference to someone whose first name doesn’t match the person you’re looking for, but their middle name does, then you should be taking a closer look at that reference to see if it’s the same person.

Animal associations with Jewish given names probably originate with the blessings given in the Bible by Jacob to his sons before he died. While some sons were associated with other things in the blessings (such as the seashore), five were given animal associations. Let’s stop for a moment to look at the names and their associated animals as they show up in naming patterns even today. These are all listed in Chapter 49 of Genesis:

Yehuda (Judah) Lion Judah is a lion’s whelp
Issachar Donkey Issachar is a large-boned ass
Dan Snake Dan shall be a serpent in the way
Naftali Deer “Naftali is a hind (female deer) let loose”
Binyamin (Benjamin) Wolf Benjamin is a wolf that raveneth

* Bible quotes from the JPS 1917 Edition online edition from Mechon Mamre

Now, it’s not surprising that Dan and Issachar do not have naming patterns that follow the animals they are associated with, as no one wants to name their child after a snake or a donkey. However, the remaining three are common name associations. Some variations:

Yehuda Aryeh/Leib/Leyb/Loeb (Aryeh is Hebrew and Leib is Yiddish for lion)
Naftali Hirsch/Tzvi (Hirsch is Yiddish and Tzvi Hebrew for deer )
Binyamin Ze’ev/Wolf/Wulf/Volf (Ze’ev is Hebrew and Volf is Yiddish for wolf)

Other animal name pairings exist that do not come directly from the bible. Some common examples include:

Aryeh Leib/Leyb/Loeb (Hebrew and Yiddish forms of lion)
Ze’ev Wolf (Hebrew and Yiddish forms of wolf)
Dov Ber (Hebrew and Yiddish forms of bear)
Tziporah Feiga (Hebrew and Yiddish forms of bird, a woman’s name)
Tzvi Hirsch (Hebrew and Yiddish forms of deer or gazelle)

In addition to these name pairings, there are also other animal names that are used, which include:

Ayelet/Ayala (modern female names based on Hebrew word for a deer)
Deborah (Hebrew for bee)
Rachel (Hebrew for young lamb)
Yael (modern female name based on Hebrew word for an ibex)
Yonah (Hebrew for dove, generally a male name)

It’s also worth noting that many name pairs existed that had nothing to do with animals. Some examples include:

Asher Anshel (Anshel is Yiddish form of Asher, derived from Hebrew word for happy and blessed)
Esther Malka (Queen Esther, Malka being the Hebrew word for a queen)
Menachem Mendel (Hebrew and Yiddish words meaning comfort)
Shlomo Zalman (Zalman is Yiddish form of Shlomo, derived from Hebrew word for peace, Shalom)

You might recognize that the name pair Menachem Mendel is still commonly used among Lubavitcher chassidim, as that was the name of the seventh (and as of now, last) Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who passed away in 1994.

Name on Polish birth certificate from 1888

Of course, just because you find one side of these pairs does not mean the other side will be the same. This is not a rule, just a common pattern. In my own tree there is a Binyamin Mendel, for example, which in many references shows up as just Mendel. If you only used the above you might think his first name was Menachem, which would be wrong. If you only knew his first name was Binyamin you might thing his kinui was Wolf, but you would also be wrong. At the very least recognize when you hear a name of someone you are researching, especially when used in a casual framework, that the name may legally have been their middle name and not their first name.

Name Changes at Ellis Island

I think that there are three stages in the evolution of a genealogist.

The first stage is when they hear that family names were changed at Ellis Island they believe it.

The second stage is when they realize the whole Ellis Island Name Change thing is a myth, and basically no names were changed there.

The third stage is when they recognize that most myths are based on some aspect of truth, and even if you know a name in question wasn’t changed at Ellis Island, there is probably something to your family story that may help your research.

This leads into a different issue in that as genealogists we find a lot of the what, but a lot less of the why in our research. If we do discover that a family name was changed that is a what find, but it doesn’t usually tell us at all why the name was changed. This is one of many frustrations a genealogist comes across, as some changes don’t seem to make any sense at all. When you research your family and you find vital records, obituaries, etc. you get a lot of the what, but hardly any why.

I have a story in my family that tells the supposed why of a name change. My great-grandmother’s name was Rachel Cohen. She was born in what is now Belarus in 1898 and moved to New York sometime around the turn of the century. As an adult she looked for work but couldn’t find a job. Her friends told her her name was too Jewish sounding. So she changed her name and the next day got a job as a telephone operator at Macy’s. What did she change her name to? Ruth Cohen.

Why are Names Changed?

I was reminded of this story recently while reading a book from the National Genealogical Society called Petitions for Name Changes in New York City 1848-1899 (on Amazon) which was published in 1984 and lists the name change petitions on file in the Hall of Records in New York City for the years 1848-1899. The book is simply a listing of the 890 petitions made during that time period. As the full text of the petition is given, the interesting thing is that the reason for requesting a name change is also given as part of the request. Of course, a good portion of the name changes from this period deals with immigrants.

The reasons given for changing one’s name in this book generally fall into a few categories. There are people whose names put them up to ridicule, usually because the meaning of the name in the US is different than it was where the petitioner was born (Schitter to Schiller). There are those who wanted to simplify their names because it was hard to spell for English speakers (Lishniewsky to Lish, Klinkowstein to Kling, Koenigsberger to King, Sandelawsky to Sands). Some found that there were other people with the same name in New York (imagine that?) and wanted to change their name so there would be less confusion. Many name changes were children of divorced parents who wanted to take on their mother’s maiden name.

Frequently name changes followed other relatives who had done the same. Two petitions show a man who changed his name because the woman he wanted to marry objected to taking the name (Rindskopf), and the father who a year later changed his name to match his son (now Risdorf). Of course the second petition by the father doesn’t mention the reason the son changed his name, just that other family had changed their name to Risdorf. Perhaps someone whose German is better can explain the meaning of Rindskopf, but it seems to me to be meat head. Another Rindskopf, not clearly related, changed his name to Rieders.

At least two women actually took their deceased husbands’ names in order to help continue their businesses without difficulty. Many cases also show relatives offering the petitioner money to change their names, sometimes when the relative did not have someone to continue their surname and wanted the petitioner to change their name in order to keep the surname alive. Sometimes the receipt of an inheritance was dependent on the petitioner changing their name. What one finds in many cases is that the petitioner has already used a different name in business or school for many years, and now is trying to legalize the name they have been known by, in some cases, for decades.

One common reason, similar to my great-grandmother’s name change, was antisemitism or just general xenophobia. Many people changed their names to help get jobs, or improve their businesses, etc. Indeed, when you consider that the main reason most immigrants came to America during that period was for employment, it’s not surprising that people were willing to change their names to help get themselves a job. Sometimes the petitions state the reason clearly, that the person is Jewish and wants to change their name, while other times a euphemism is used such as “would be advantageous” or “will obtain pecuniary advantages.” Sometimes the person already had a job, but their boss didn’t want to bother calling them by a name he couldn’t pronounce and just called them something else. Over time the person would decide they wanted to use their new boss-chosen name legally.

One interesting name change, which might not seem so at first glance, was from Alter J. Saphirstein to Jacob Saphirstein. All the petition says is that he is known to his friends and in business as Jacob and now wants to take that name legally. What isn’t said is what Alter means. Alter means ‘old’ in Yiddish. You might wonder why a parent would name their child old? Well, it was actually quite common when the child in question was sick as a baby. If the baby had problems when born and the parents feared the child would die, they would name their child Alter to confuse the Angel of Death. Imagine the Angel of Death looking on his list of names for a baby to take, and finding someone named Old – obviously that can’t be the baby he was looking for, so move on. Well, that was the idea. In this case it would seem his name was Alter Jacob (notice the J. middle initial) and he was just dropping the Alter from his name, which he obviously never used himself.

My ‘Ellis Island Story’

So back to Ellis Island. Like many families, I had an ‘Ellis Island Story’ too. Technically speaking it wouldn’t have been at Ellis Island as my family arrived in the US before Ellis Island opened its doors in 1892, but it was of the genre. My grandfather told me that some of our family, whose name is Trauring, arrived in the US and when the clerk asked them for their name they didn’t understand and probably said a word in English they knew, Husband, and the clerk heard Hausman, and they ended up being known as Hausman. It sounds like a pretty standard immigration story.

Just to be clear, passengers arriving the US could not change their names at the port of arrival in the US. In fact, clerks at these ports worked off of passenger manifests provided by the shipping companies that had been filled out overseas. If a mistake was made to the name, it wasn’t done in the US port of arrival. There is no truth to the myth that people’s names were mangled by clerks who didn’t speak the same language as the immigrant, etc. as everything was written down and the clerks just copied the names from the passenger manifests. While my grandfather told me a story which is demonstrably not completely true, there were some pieces of the story which even my grandfather didn’t realize were true.

My gg-grandfather Isaac Trauring (my grandfather’s grandfather) married Ester Hausmann. They were the first generation of my family to arrive in the US. Knowing that my gg-grandmother’s maiden name was Hausmann added a bit of interest in the story I had heard about the immigration name change. Was there any truth to the story that someone whose name was Trauring had gone by the name Hausmann?

In later years I discovered an emergency passport application filed by Isaac Trauring in Vienna in 1914 that showed the name of the ship and the date he arrived in the US. Originally I got copies of this document through the US State Department, but later it turned up on Ancestry.com as well (with a page not provided by the State Department by the way). I looked up the passenger manifest for the ship mentioned in the passport application. Isaac wasn’t in the passenger manifest for that ship. The name of his wife, Ester Hausman, does show up in the manifest, however, as does the name of her brother Moses Hausmann and sister Chana Hausmann. In the manifest, however, it lists Moses Hausmann and Ester Hausmann as the same age and married to each other.

1884 Passenger Manifest showing 3 Hausmans (Ester in the middle)

It occurred to me at the time that perhaps the Moses Hausmann in the manifest was actually Isaac Trauring, using identification documents from Esther’s brother to travel to the Unite States. The third person, Chana Hausmann, actually matches very closely in age to a real sister Chana, so perhaps the sister traveled with them. The one person missing, however, is Isaac and Ester’s daughter Katey which would have been two years old at the time. Was it actually Isaac on the ship as he said in the passport application? or did Isaac travel with daughter Katey on a different ship? or did Katey arrive with someone else at a later date? or maybe the ship listed was altogether wrong and the fact that there is an Ester Hausmann on this ship is just coincidence?

So fast forward a few more years and Ancestry.com released additional passport applications, including one by a child of Isaac and Ester that was born in 1897 in New York (the brother of my great-grandfather). In his application, there is an explanatory note that while his birth certificate lists his last name as Hausmann, his real last name is Trauring, and it was just a mistake made by the midwife who recorded the birth:

This wasn’t actually the first time I had thought to look up birth records under the name Hausman, but I hadn’t been successful in the past. However, here in front of me was proof that the name at birth of Isaac and Ester’s children (or at least this child) was Hausman. First, this would seem to give support to the theory that the Moses Hausmann in the passenger manifest was actually Isaac Trauring. Second, it offered real proof that a NY birth certificate existed for this child, if not others (they had at least three children in NY that survived to adulthood).

FamilySearch.org has New York births from this period indexed on their web site, so a quick search of their site (for Abrum J. Hausman born in 1894) returns an Abraham Jou Hausman, born in 1894, to Isaac Hausman and Esther Hausman Hausman. No that’s not a typo, it actually lists her last name twice, because it is her maiden name and her married name according to the birth certificate. We know why this is the case, since Isaac was using her surname, she had to list hers twice. The full FamilySearch.org results (click to enlarge):

FamilySearch.org Search Results for ‘Abrum J. Hausman’

Now, if one would want to order that birth record, you can do so from the NYC Department of Records, but I want to point something important about online indexes like that on FamilySearch. When ordering a birth certificate, it is helpful to know the certificate number (to insure the correct record is reproduced), something not listed in the FamilySearch information. Presumably FamilySearch had access to this information, but when they indexed the birth certificates they did not add in the field for certificate number.

If you were to do the same search on Ancestry.com, you would get the following result:

Ancestry.com Search Results for ‘Abrum J. Hausman’

Note that while Ancestry.com has provided less information than FamilySearch.org, such as leaving out the names of the parents, it has provided the certificate number. Also note that the name is indexed differently in each database. In the FamilySearch.org record, it seems to be an expansion of what is actually on the certificate, where they guessed (or based on a list of abbreviations) that Ab was Abraham, but didn’t know what to do with the Jou (which is actually Joseph). In the case of Ancestry.com, they actually match the text as written in the passport application exactly, which leads me to believe that in both the case of Ancestry.com and the birth certificate shown for the passport application, there was probably an index created of these records that both Ancestry.com and the Board of Health clerk who issued the birth certificate transcription in 1915 used.

The moral of the story here is that if you have access to more than one database that covers the same information, it is usually worthwhile to search both, as they will not always give you the same information.

This is the actual birth certificate as provided by the NYC Department of Records (click to enlarge):

Birth Certificate of Abraham Joseph Hausman/Trauring

Now who here thinks it was a mistake by the midwife? Yeah, me neither. In fact, in birth certificates from two other births of children from this same couple, the Hausman name is shown in the same fashion.

If you look at the birth certificate closely, there is an important piece of information that you might miss at first glance. It shows the number of children born previously to the mother, and the number currently living. This is similar to the information in the 1900 and 1910 US Federal Census records (see my US Immigrant Census Form on the Forms page for more information about that). In this case it shows 7 children born, 5 still living. If one were unaware of the number of children in a family then this is a good way to check that you are searching for the correct number. Indeed out of the five listed as living at that point, I know of only three that survived into adulthood. I have an additional birth certificate of a child was born two years earlier, but whom I don’t know anything else about (so presumably died), and there is a child who died young before they moved to the US. It would seem that at least indirectly I can account for all the surviving children, although there is at least one death I am not aware of from any of my records. Of course, there is an alternative possibility, that the child born two years earlier did survive, and I just don’t know about her. That would mean that there were two deceased children I was unaware of instead of just one.

It would seem from the above that it was not likely a mistake, but rather the family was indeed living under the name Hausman. The name didn’t change at Castle Garden (where they would have arrived instead of Ellis Island which had not yet opened) and it wasn’t a mistake by some clerk, but rather for reasons not entirely clear, the family arrived using the name Hausman and kept it. Probably they just used ID documents with the Hausman name as they didn’t have any other IDs in the US. In later years, as evidenced by the passport application, all of the children were known by the Trauring name, not by the Hausman name, and indeed when Isaac Trauring later became a Naturalized citizen, there is no mention of using the Hausman name at all in his application. I believe this is because he left the US for a brief period after these births and returned with proper documentation before starting the Naturalization process.

So the story I heard years ago about a branch of the Trauring family going by the name Hausman was indeed true, and not only that, it was my own branch. Name change issues can be very complicated, as this episode shows, where the name changed and then changed back so that documents exist for earlier dates under the original name, then exist under the changed name, and later under the original name again. This is not so different from the issue of children using their mother’s maiden name due to lack of civil marriage by their parents (only having a religious marriage), then later switching back their father’s name, as described in my earlier article Religious marriages, civil marriages and surnames from mothers.

In the end, whether the reason for a relatives’ name change was because of pressure to fit in, overt racism, to get an inheritance, to take the name of one’s mother after one’s parents divorced, to reclaim a father’s name, to improve one’s business, or just because they had the wrong documentation when they arrived, the very real possibility that members of your family did change their names at some point, even if it wasn’t at Ellis Island, is something to consider when doing your research.