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Jewish Names from the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (1917)

Encyclopedia-Religion-Ethics-Names-JewishIsrael Abrahams was the editor, from 1888 to 1908, of the Jewish Quarterly Review. He taught at Jews’ College, London, before he became a reader of Talmudics at the Univeristy of Cambridge from 1902 to his death in 1925. He was perhaps best known for his work, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, published in 1896.

Between 1908 and 1926, the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics was published. In volume 9, published in 1917, is an article titled NAMES (Jewish) written by Abrahams. The entire encyclopedia can be downloaded from Archive.org, although I’ve made a PDF of just the page with the entry.

I’ve provided the full text of the article below, with minor changes. These include adding some paragraph breaks to make it easier to read, expanding most abbreviations, and adding links to many of the sources referenced.

NAMES (Jewish) — The post-Biblical period shows much the same general phenomena as are discernible in the Biblical age (see NAMES[Hebrew]; HDB iii. 478 ff.; and George Buchanan Gray, Hebrew Proper Names, London, 1896 — see copy on the Internet Archive – PT). The most significant modification concerns the marking of family sequence by the application to descendants of names borne by ancestors. In Palestine the naming of children after their grandfather can be traced only to the Greek period, about the 3rd century B.C. But the Elephantine papyri carry the custom back some two centuries for the Egyptian Jews (Gray, in Studien zur semitischen Philologie, Giessen, 1914, p. 161 ff.).

In the Rabbinic period the custom was well established, and it was recognized that a change had occurred from the older Israelite practice of naming a child after some circumstance at his birth. The change was justified by Rabbis of the 2nd century A.D. on two grounds: (1) the need of aiding the preservation of family genealogies, and (2) the loss of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in selecting the incident which was to be enshrined in the child’s name (Midrash Genesis Rabbäh, xxxvii. — see this passage in translation in the Internet Archive, pg 299. — PT).

It has never become customary for Jewish children to bear their parents’ names; there are exceptions, but in most cases the child seems to have been posthumous. More usual is the choice of the grandfather’s name, though the tendency has been, since the 13th century, not to name a child after a living relative (Leopold Löw, Die Lebensalter in der Jüdischen Literatur, Szegedin, 1875, p.95). (This has been the custom of Ashkenzai Jews since 13th century, but not of Sephardi Jews who do name after living relatives, particularly grandparents. – PT)

A full study of the history of Jewish personal names throughout the ages was published by Leopold Zunz in 1836 (reprinted in Zunz’s Gesammelte Schriften, Berlin, 1876, ii. 1-82). At that time the Prussian Government, following a Bohemian precedent of 1787, was proposing to introduce legislation restricting the Jews to Biblical personal names (cf. Joseph Jacobs, in Jewish Encyclopedia ix. 156 f.). Zunz had no difficulty in demonstrating that Jews had freely used non-Biblical names, adopting in succession Babylonian, Persian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Arabic, and later European designations. Many Hebrew names were translated into the vernaculars of Europe and Asia. Zunz’s work contains long lists of the Jewish names of various periods; and there are some similar lists in Jacobs’ article. In these lists Biblical names by no means predominate. The variety of Jewish names revealed in the English records of the 12th and 13th centuries is very remarkable.

With regard to surnames, there are indications that descriptive epithets were becoming common in the Rabbinic period, and that these were developed chiefly in lands where Arabic influence prevailed. Family-names were turned in surnames; so were place-names. The many wanderings of the Jews in the Middles Ages and more recent times induced the custom of naming a new settler after the town of country from which he had migrated. Then, again, such terms as Cohen and Levi, originally descriptive of descent, became surnames. Such names as Maimuni (or Maimonides), i.e. ‘son of Maimon,’ in the 12th century, and Mendelssohn, ‘son of Mendel,’ in the 18th, are illustrations of the practice of converting the father’s personal name into a surname.

Animal namers are probably more common among Jews than among the general population (See my article Animals and Name Pairs in Jewish Given Names on this topic – PT). In the mediæval period occupations suggested many names, and in the centuries approaching the modern age names were derived, especially in Germany, from the business signs (such as the red shield which gave the Rothschilds their name). The intercourse between Jews and their fellow-citizens after the emancipation period rendered it necessary for the former to bear distinctive civic names. This had been the case long before in Spain, and was growing common throughout Europe when, in 1787, the custom became regular in Central and Northern Europe. In the year named the Jews of the Austrian empire were ordered by law to adopt surnames; if any refused, the registration commissioners were empowered to enforce names of their own selection (cf. Jacobs, loc. cit.).

The naming of the child has at various times been a ceremony of considerable moment. The period covered by Scripture is fully dealt with in the Bible Dictionaries and in article NAMES (Hebrew). From the 12th century, according to Löw (p. 97), not earlier, Jewish boys were names on their eighth day, during the circumcision rite. The formulæ vary; the now common form may be found in the Authorized Daily Prayer Book (ed. Simeon Singer, London, 1914, p. 305 (See a copy of the American edition of Singer’s siddur at the Internet Archive – in this edition look for page 449 – PT); cf. Löw, p. 101). A formula for the naming of girls is given in some rites (see Book of Prayer . . . according to the Custom of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, ed. Moses Gaster, London, 1901, i. 180); it is becoming customary to name girls at the first visit paid by the mother to the Synagogue after the birth of the child (Singer, p. 312).

The names thus given are mostly in Hebrew, though sometimes the vernacular names are merely transliterated into Hebrew letters – a custom which goes back to Talmudic times. Such names as Alexander and Julian were this treated in the Rabbinic age. Often the Hebrew and common names corresponded either exactly or in meaning, but in modern times there is frequently no exact correspondence between the Hebrew and ordinary names; this the chief Rabbi Hermann Adler had the name Naphtali. There is, however, some remote connexion in meaning between the two names. It is still customary to find a Hebrew name beginning with the same letter as the vernacular name. Most Jews still bear two names (though the two are often identical), the one Hebrew (termed ‘sacred name’ and used in Hebrew documents, in the Synagogue, in epitaphs, and so forth), the other vernacular (termed ‘common name,’ used for ordinary purposes).

The Hebrew names thus conferred are borne throughout life, except that, under Kabbalistic influence, some rites direct the change of name in case of illness, in a prayer for the patient’s recovery (for a formula see Gaster, p. 195). This custom is now more honoured in the breach than in the observance, though it has some Talmudic authority, for in Talmud Bavli (Babylonian) Rosh Hashanah, 16b, mention is made of the efficiacy of a change of name.

Names are still changed on conversion thus a Jewish convert to Christianity is given a new name, such as Paul, while a convert to Judaism receives a patriarchal name (Abraham, Sarah, or the like). On the other hand, it was held by the Rabbis a meritorious trait in the sons of Jacob that in their Egyptian environment ‘they did not change their names’ (Leviticus Rabbah, xxxii. 5).

A pleasant custom with regard to Hebrew names is the selection of a Scriptural text, beginning and ending with the same letters as the Hebrew name; the text is then a kind of motto for the bearer of the name. A long list of such texts may be found in Seligman Baer, Abodat Yisrael, Rödelheim, 1868, p. 106. (See the opensiddur.org project to transcribe Baer’s Avodat Yisroel – PT) Some have sought the source of this custom in the Talmudic references to an older school usage. ‘Repeat to me thy verse,’ says a visitor to the school (cf. the incidents recorded in Hagigah, 15a). But the verse in these passages was some recently-learned text, and apparently had no connexion with the pupil’s name.

LITERATURE. — To the works referred to in the course of the article, add: J. Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England, London, 1893, esp. pp. 345-369; H. Gross, Gallia judaica, Paris, 1897; and, for the ancient period, S. Daiches, Publication no. 2 of Jews’ College, London, 1910.


Other historical articles about Jewish names:
Jewish Surnames: An instructive and suggestive essay on an interesting subject (1904)
Casual racism and onomastics from a century ago

For all articles on Jewish names from this site, go to the Names page.

Jewish Surnames: An instructive and suggestive essay on an interesting subject (1904)

New-Era-Jewish-SurnamesIn 1904, a British man named Albert Montefiore Hyamson wrote an article for a US magazine called The New Era Illustrated Magazine. The publication had been founded in 1902 in Boston as the New Era Jewish Magazine, but changed its name when moving its offices to New York shortly thereafter. In 1904 Hyamson was only 29, but would go on to publish many books, including topical dictionaries and many books on Jewish history and Zionism. One book he wrote not that long after in 1908 was A History of the Jews in England, which can be found online.

Hyamson himself had his own part in Zionist history, first editing a publication called the Zionist Review for the local British Zionist Federation starting in 1917, and by 1921 had gone with Sir Herbert Samuel, the first High Commissioner of Palestine, to the British Mandate to take a position in charge of immigration. He served in that position until 1934 when his penchant for not delegating work had caused a nine month backlog in immigration applications, but not before angering much of the Jewish population for enforcing Britain’s strict immigration rules. Hyamson would later, become a leader in Jewish opposition to the foundation of a Jewish State. In 1904, however, he was simply a civil servant and a writer, and he wrote the following article on the topic of Jewish Surnames.

The original can be found in a bound copy of the New Era Illustrated at the Internet Archive (pg. 290-297), although I’ve excerpted the article itself so you can just download the relevant pages, and the text is reproduced below. I’ve taken the liberty of adding some additional paragraph breaks to make the text a little more readable here.

Jewish Surnames.



THE adoption of hereditary surnames by Jews took place in different localities on various occasions, The first to have taken them seem to have been the Sephardim, who possessed their beautifully sounding surnames centuries ago, and many of whom, in their exile and wanderings, retained them wherever they went. These surnames were not, however, in every case preserved pure and undefiled. In the Mohammedan countries the tendency was to bring them nearer to the Arabic standard. In Italy and other of the Continental states, they were occasionally changed to new ones bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the old. Such was the case with the Disraelis and the Alontefiores. In England the first Jews after the Resettlement were Sephardim, who came accompanied by their sonorous Spanish names, and since that date every newcomer, whatever his origin, has immediately on his arrival possessed himself of a suitable civil appellation. The Jews of England have, however, in some instances been guilty of vandalism, and within my own knowledge, I regret to state, such historical names as Martinez, Rodriguez and Rey have been shortened and translated into Martin, Rogers and King.

In the Teutonic countries the adoption of hereditary surnames by Jews is comparatively recent. It was not until 1845 that the governments of the last of the German states took measures to compel their adoption. The decree of Napoleon, and the measures subsequent to it, were considered by those towards whom they were directed as savoring of cruel persecution. Protests were made, but passed unheeded. Recourse was had to subterfuges, but they proved of no avail. Attempts were made to evade the decrees, but they were unsuccessful. The final day fixed for the adoption of surnames arrived, and none were allowed to escape the ordeal. Patronymic surnames, those ending in -sohn. etc., were accepted in many cases. Others took merely fancy names derived from trees, plants, jewels or natural features. In some cases chance was called to the assistance of the undecided. The Bible was opened and the first name hit upon adopted as the future patronymic of the family. In one instance at least the congregation assembled in the synagogue, the rabbi opened the prayerbook, and the first word on the page was taken by the first family, the second by the second family, and so on.

It had been the custom for centuries anterior to the ordinances promulgated by Napoleon for a Jew to have a double name, Shem Hakkódesh for religious purposes, and a kinnui by which he was known to the world. The kinnuyim were chosen for several reasons; on account of similarity in sound, for instance George (Gershoni), Robert (Reuben); by translation or similarity of meaning, Freude (Simchah); because the new name was supposed to have some reference to the original bearer of the old Fischel, Fisher (Moses); or by the formation of diminutives, Mirush (Miriam), Koplin, Kaplan, Kaplin (Jacob). These kinnuyim were the foundations, in many instances, of the newly-adopted surnames.

Across the Atlantic, Jewish names have undergone still more wonderful metamorphoses than in the Old World. Such lucre-smacking descriptions as Milldolar, Barndollar, Cashdollar, are to be found in the United States, and these have been proved to be Americanizations of Mühlthaler, Bernthaler and Käsenthaler, denoting families originating in Mühlthal. Bernthal and Kasenthal, towns in South Germany. From America also such apparently un-Jewish appellations as exemplified in the two following illustrations have come. It is related that a Polish-Jewish immigrant, recently arrived in New York, in the course of his endeavors to make a fortune had to give his name to a gentleman with whom he was contracting business. His appellation, Yankele, not being familiar to his interlocutor, was transcribed John Kelly, and Yankele of Lodz was henceforth known as Mr. John Kelly, of New- York. Under the same circumstances it is stated that Yitzchok became Hitchcock, and the descendants of this particular Yitzchok possibly wonder whence their Anglo-Saxon patronymic was derived. It is interesting to note that etymologically Yitzchok and Hitchcock are the same, the latter meaning little Isaac. Of course these two instances may be apocryphal; they probably are, but they illustrate the origin of many Jewish surnames that would otherwise be inexplicable.

In the earliest years of the world’s history, when the population was far more sparse and scattered than it is now, when the system of human government was that of tribes, of clans, of families, there was far less necessity for distinction between personalities. In those days one name was quite sufficient for an individual in most instances, and it seldom occurred that any further designation was necessary. We read of Adam, of Abraham, of Isaac, and of many others who bore but a single name. When, however, numbers had increased to a more considerable extent and the sole description of Abraham or Isaac became insufficient, individuals were distinguished by explanatory additions to their names. We then come across Joshua, the son of Nun; David, the son of Jesse; Elijah, the Tishbite; Judas Maccabæus, Judas Iscariot and others.

These descriptions were, however, only personal to those to whom they were in the first instance applied, and were in no sense hereditary. The nomenclature of the people remained in that condition for centuries, and the world was some hundreds of years older before surnames in the modern sense became common in Western Jewry. During the whole of this period each particular Isaac or Solomon had an explanatory appendix to his name in order to distinguish him from all other Isaacs and Solomons, and in illustration of this custom it might perhaps be useful to quote some of the names borne by English Jews prior to the expulsion of 1290. In the records of that period we find reference to numerous patronymic names; Aaron fil Isaac, Aaron fil Deudone, Aaron fil Samuel, Abraham fil Aaron, Abraham fil Benedict, Abraham fil Benjamin, Abraham fil Jacob, Abraham fil Rabbi, Abraham fil Vives, Bendit fil Mosse, Deulacresse fil Benjamin, Jacob fil Ysaac, Josce fil Leun. Josce fil Manasse, and dozens of others.

Among local surnames are Aaron do Colcestre, Aaron de Lincolnia, R. Aaron of Canterbury, Abraham de Bristol, Abraham de Norwicz, Amiot de Excestre, Benedict de Faversham, Isaac de Joueigny, Ysaac de Russie (probably the first known reference to a Russian Jew in England), Jacob de Paris, Jacob de Westminstre, Deulecresse de Danemarcia, a Danish Jew; Jeremias de Grimesby. Ursel de Bedeford, and also Josco de Domo Samson (Joseph of the house of Samson).

Illustrating surnames of office and occupation we get Abraham Gabbai, a name still borne in the London community; Abraham Vesq (Abraham the bishop), i.e. the dayan (Footnote 1 – Recent researches have shown that Le Vesq equals Cohen rather than “the bishop”); Abraham Pernas, Benedict le Puncteur, Benedict Pernaz, Benjamin Magister, Deodatus Episcopus, also dayan; Isaac Medicus, Isaac Magister puerorum, a schoolmaster; Jacob Presbyter, Jacob Scriptor, Moses Nakdan, Samuel le Prestre, also Theobald Convert, William Convert and others, ancestors of some of the Conyers families of the present day.

Finally, as surnames derived from nicknames or descriptive of the person are to be found Aaron le Blund, i.e., the fair; Benedict Parvus, the modern English surname Small, Little or Short, or the German Klein; Benedict Lengus, in modern English Long, the progenitor of the Langs and Langes that we know; Deudone cum pedibus tortis, a lame man or a cripple, Duzelina vidua Mossy cum naso, Duzelina the widow of Mossy with the nose, a gentleman whose nose was apparently his most prominent feature; Isaac le Gros — we still have the same surname in the London Jewish community; Isaac Senex, Mosse Juvenis.

Coming to the present-day Jewish surnames we find that the classes into which non-Jewish surnames are divided, namely, patronymic, local surnames, surnames of office and occupation, and nicknames, are all represented.

The first class includes a very large proportion of those borne by Jews, and they are all, with few exceptions, easily traceable. Commencing with Biblical names, and taking Abraham (father of many nations) as the first, we obtain derivatives in Ebril, Abers, Aberl, Abcrlin, Aberlein, Abreska, Aberke (in Hungary little Abraham: the termination -ke or -ka denotes an Hungarian or Slavonic origin). Ebermann (the Europeanized form of Abraham + mann) the frequent Abrahams, the plain Abraham, the shortened Braham, Abrahamson, Abromovitch, Abramovitch and Abramovitz in Russia; Abram, Abrams, and also once Babrahams, borne, I believe, by a converted Jew who wished to disguise his origin. In addition, there are Aberzuss (sweet little Abraham) and Aberlich (dear little Abraham).

From Isaac (laughter) we get of course Isaac and Isaacs with various spellings — recently a family spelling the name Izaaks attained some notoriety — Lachman, Sachs, Sacks, Sack, Saxe, Hickman, Hitchcock, and the diminutives Seckel, Sichel and Zeklin. Lachman is also sometimes derived from Leechman (physician).

From Jacob (a supplanter) the innumerable Jacobs, Jacob, Jacobus, Jacobson, Jackson, Jacobi, Jacoby; Yokelson (the son of little Jacob), Koppel (little Jacob), and the same name reversed as Leppok; Benjacob Koppelovitch and Kaplowitch, equivalents of Jacobs and Jacobson, Kaplan, Kaplin,(Footnote 2 – Kaplan and Kaplin are also derived the Russian from Cohen.) and also Kaufman. This last name, being taken for the German word meaning merchant, has sometimes been Anglicised into Marchant or Merchant. No doubt, in some instances it belongs to the class of occupation surnames which will be dealt with later, but it is also in many instances the equivalent through the Hebrew of Jacob + the termination -mann. We also find Koppellmann, a diminutive of the same.

It is perhaps in place here to explain the termination -mann continually recurring in the course of this paper. In most Jewish surnames the suffix -mann is a contraction of Menachem, the comforter, given to many Jewish boys born in the month of Ab, just as Sabbathai or the Polish-Jewish Shebsel is often given to boys born on the Sabbath. Kaufmann therefore in most cases equals Jacob Menachem rather than merchant. Mann is also a term of endearment used by mothers when addressing their boys.

Kopinski, the Polish, and Scobeleff, the Russian, are also equivalents of Jacobs. Israel (prevailing with God) furnishes Israel, Israels, and Israelson only to Jewish nomenclature.

From Joseph we get Joseph, Josephs, Josephson, Yoish, Yosl, Jessel, Joslin and Joskin, all diminutives; Jessop, not often met with among Jews; Jossel, Josselson, Jocelyn in France, and Josephi. From Simeon (hearing) comes the same name used as a surname, and its diminutive Simnel.

From Judah, meaning confession, are derived Judah, Jewell (a diminutive), Judelson, a son of little Judah, and the female name Judith. From this name also a very large number of the descendants of the patriarchs derive their surnames, although at first sight the derivation may not seem very patent. It will, no doubt, be remembered that Jacob, when near his death, called his sons around and gave to each his blessing. To Judah he said : “Judah is a lion’s whelp. He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?” Basing their authority on this passage, Jews, that is to say the descendants of Judah, in innumerable instances adopted the surname of Lion. In Germany they called themselves Lö, Löwe, Lowe, Lobusch, Löbel, Löwel, Löblein, diminutives, and Ben-Löb; Leuw in Holland; Leon in France and Spain; Leoni in Italy; Leo, Lion, Lionel the diminutive in England, and perhaps also Lyons, in imitation of the English surname. Leon is also sometimes a local surname, as will be shown later. Others adopted the Hebrew form Ben-Ari.

The frequency of zoological names among Jews has frequently puzzled students of the subject, some of whom have come to the conclusion that they are altogether without meaning and are purely borrowed. The founder of the neighboring tribe of Benjamin (the son of my strength) was told that he should raven as a wolf. In the morning he should devour the prey, and at night he should divide the spoil. Hence Wolf in its countless spellings, Lopez in Spanish, Lopes in Portuguese.

“Naphtali is a hind let loose,” and consequently we have Hirsch, Herz, Hertz, Hart, Harris and Harrison in England; Hertzl and Herschell, German diminutives; Hertzen, the son of Hertz, and Hirschkovitsch and Herskovitz in Russian, names that would occupy many pages in a Jewish directory.

Of Ephraim it was told in Genesis xlvii that he should multiply exceedingly. The symbol of fruitfulness was a fish. The name therefore became the equivalent of Ephraim. This name has also sometimes been substituted for Moses, in allusion to his earliest recorded adventure. The Italian name Menasci is derived from Manasseh, from which is also obtained Manasse.

Levi is more often a tribal name than a patronymic, and perhaps ought not to be treated at this point. It gives us Levy, Levi, Levie, Levay, Lavey, Levin, Lewin, Levene, Levien, Lewinson, Levinsohn, Levison, Levenson, Lewinsky, Levinsky, Lewis very often, Louissohn, Lewey, Löwy, Lowy, Loewe, Loewi, Leve, and by a transposition of the two first letters, Elvy. Löwe, translated into English, becomes Lion also. As purely a tribal name we get Halévy and Ha-Levi, and Aleuy and Haliva among the Sephardim.

Issachar was a strong ass couching down between two burdens, and for that reason we count among our names: Achsel, Schulter (ready to bear the burden), and thence through bearan, Bär, Baer, Beer, Bärell, Berlin, Bärusch, Bernard, Berthold, Barnett (Footnote 3 – Barnett, when of Scandinavian origin, means “the child.”) and Barnard.

Other Biblical names used as modern surnames are Samuel, Samuels, Samuelson, Sanvel, Sanville, Zangwill and Saville; Asher, Ascher, Asherson. Assur and Archer; Solomon, Solomons, Salomon, Salaman, Salomons, Salmon, Salmen, Sloman, Slowman, Salom, Salome, Salomone. All Jewish boys born in the year of Alexander’s visit to the Holy Land were named after him. His name became the kinnui of Solomon, and hence the Jewish Alexander and Saunders. Jonas, Jones, and Jonassohn from Jonah; from Gedaliah, Guedalla; Lazarus, Ellosor, Lazar, Lazan, and Lewis sometimes, equal Eleazar; Samson and Sampson; Nathan, Nathanson, Bennaton and Bennoson; Elkan and Elkin from Elchanan; Mordecai; Joel; from Elijah, Elias, Ellis, Ellison, Eliason, Eliasaf, and also Elliot and Eliotson, although I have never heard of Jews bearing either of these last two names; Zacharias and Zachariah; Abelson; Aaron, Aarons, Aron, Aaronson, Aronson, Aronovich and Aronoff in Russia; Joshua; from David, Davids, Davidson, Davison, Davies, Davis, Bendavid; Enoch; from Moses, Moses, Moss, Mosely, Mosessohn, Mosesson, Mossel, the diminutive, and Möise, the Turkish form; Emanuel and Manuel.

From Menachem we get, in addition to the terminal syllables to a great many other names, the following complete surnames: Mann, Man, Menke, Menkin, Menlin, Mandl, Mendl, Mendel, Mendelssohn, Mendelson, Manin, Monitz and Monnish.

Other patronymic surnames are: Phillips and Phillipsohn, sometimes from Philip; Henry, and the Spanish Henriques, which, if derived from Heinrich, mean the home ruler, the ruler of the home — another suggested meaning of Heinrich is “rich in slaves”; Lewis and Louisson; Marks, Marx, Marcus, Marcuson, Marcussen, Marksohn and Marcovitch; Raphæl and Raffalovitch; Anshell, Anschel, Ansell, equalling Angel; Symons, Simmons, Simons, Simmonds, Simon, Symonds; Gabriel and Gabrielson; Pincus; Bensabat. the son of Sabbathai; Benhakok; Joachimson and Joachim; Tobias; Adolphus; Wilks from William; Perez, whence is obtained the name Peru, meaning the son of Peter; Fernandez, the son of Ferdinand. In this class may also be included such names as Barabbas (son of his father).

The second great group into which the surnames borne by Jews may be divided is that which is known under the designation of Local Surnames. The Jews in their wanderings settled or passed through all countries, and with each they have seemingly retained some connection through the surnames that they or their descendants bear. Most of the states of the world have assisted in supplying the names that would fill a Jewish directory; Germany has been especially prolific in the creation of Jewish local surnames. Holland, Poland and Galicia are, however, also well represented, while among the Sephardim numerous names are reminiscent of the Peninsula and Italy.

In some cases from the name borne by a family the wanderings of one of its ancestors can be deduced. Berlinsky was undoubtedly adopted by a native of Berlin who settled in Poland; the Dutch names of Van Weenen, Van Oven and Van Praagh, by natives of the Austrian dominions who obtained their names while in Holland: the first came from Vienna, the second from Ofen, and the third from Prague.

Holland has furnished the following names to Jewish families: Amstell; De Fries, De Vries and Frieser from Friesland; Leeuwarden; Van Staveren from Stavoren; De Winter and Winter from Deventer; Van Gelder from Gelderland; Helder; Neumegen; Scharl, Van Raalte, Bronkhorst, Van Houten, Winkel, Limburg, Van Vlymen, Van Thal (from the valley); Van den Bergh (from the mountain); Vandersteen (from the hill); Van Buren (from the cottages or boors’ houses); Vandersluis, Vandersluys, Vanderlyn, Vander Linde, Vanderlinden (from the lime trees); Van der Velde (from the field); Van Rhyn (from the Rhine); Vandyck and Vandyke (from the cutting); Van de Molen (from mill): Van der Meer (from the lake); Hollander does not always mean a Dutchman, but sometimes one coming from Holland, a small German town.

By far the greatest number of Jewish local surnames in general use have originated in the German states. From Prussia and North Germany come Blanckensee, Rosenberg, Flatau (Flatow), Posen, Posner and Posener from Posen. Schrimm, Woolstone from Woolstein. Königsberg, and its English forms Kingberg and Kingsberg, Landsberg. Birnbaum and its Anglicised equivalent Peartree. Hamburg. Hamburger and Hambro from Hamburg; Hildesheim and Hildesheimer from Hildesheim; Hochheim, Linden, Vanderlinden, a German Jew settled in Holland; Emden and Embden, Bernberg, Schonthal, Summerfield, whence Summerfield — this name has also been derived from the French Somerville—Behrendt. Bresslau and Breslauer from Breslau; Berliner. Berlinsky from Berlin; Bergen, whence possibly Berger, although another explanation has also been found for this name; Dessau and Dessauer from Dessau; Dancygcr and Danziger from Danzig; Edersheim, a slight alteration of Edesheim; Eicholz from Eikholz; Friedländer from Friedland; Grünberg and Greenborg, Goldberg; Hirschberg, Hannover, Hollander from Holland; Hirschberg, Kempner and probably Kemp from Kempen; De Lissa and Delissa from Lissa; Lautenburg, Lindow, Landeshut, Mansfeld and Mansfield, Nordheim, Neuhaus, Norden, Neumark and Newmark, Offenbach, Schönberg, Sternberg and Silberberg.

From other parts of Germany we get Altdorf and Altdorfer, Assenheim, Auerbach, Bamberger from Bamberg; Bischofsheim, Bernberg, Bonn, Bingen, Bloomberg from Blomberg; Brunswick, Brunschwig and Braunschweiger, Cleve and Van Cleef from Cleves, the latter through the Dutch; Cassel; Van Duran from Düren Dreyfus (Footnote 4 – Another derivation of Dreyfus is from the nickname borne by shoemakers in allusion to the three-legged stools they use.), Dreyfous; Treves and Trier from Trêves; Dinkelspiel from Dinkelsbuhl; Dresden, Dresdner and Dresner from Dresden; Elzas, Elsas, Elsaesser and Elsasser from Elsass (PT – Alsace); Ettlinger from Ettlingen; Fuld and Fulda from Fulda; Friedeberg and Friedeberger from Friedberg; Friedländer from Friedland; Gold, Golding and Goldinger from Gelting in Bavaria; Guttenberg from Gutenberg in Wurtemburg; Günzberg, Grünberg, Goldberg, Heilbronn, Heilbron, Heilbrun and their equivalent Alfron; Hart sometimes from Hertingen in Bavaria; Heidelberg from Heidelberg; Landau and Landauer, Landsberg; Leipziger from Leipzig; Löwenstein, Van Mentz and Mainzer from Mayence; Mannheim, Mannheimer and Monheimer from Mannheim; Meininger from Meiningen; Nassauer from Nassau; Neustetel from Neustadtel; Nordheim and Nordheimer, Neuhaus, Neuburger; Newmark from Neumark; Oppenheim and Oppenheimer from Oppenheim; Pass, Depass, Dupass from Pasingas in Bavaria; de Pinna from Pinne; Ratisbonne, Rosenfeld, Schönberg, Schwabach and Schawabacher from Scbwabach; Saalburg, Saalfeld. Sonnenberg, Sonnenfeld. Sachs, Saxe and De Saxe sometimes from Saxony; Schwartzenburg; Strelitzki from Strelitz; Strassburg, Sternburg, Sinsheim, Speyer, Spier, Spiers, Spires, etc.. from Speyer; Tiktin, Wertbeim and Wertheimer from Wertheim; Wynbergen, Weinberg, Warburg, Wetzlar. Worms, De Worms and Wurmser from Worms and Wittenburg.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire supplies in addition to Strauss and Osterreicher, meaning Austrian, the following names among others: Van Adelberg from Adelsberq, Breslan and Bresslauer from Breslau; Broady from Brod and Brody; Budweis, Boss from Bosinga; Crawcour, Krakawer, Krakower and Krakowsky from Cracow; Freudenthal, Friedländer from Friedland; Gratz, Goldberg; Lunzer possibly from Linz; Neubaus, Prag, Prager, Praeger and Van Praagh from Prague; Rubenstein, Rosenberg, Sternburg. Wiener and Van Weenen from Vienna. From Silesia are derived Schlesinger and Schlessinger. It will be noticed that certain names, such as Rosenberg, Grünberg and Neuhaus recur frequently in a gazetteer of the German states.

From Poland come tbe names terminating in -ski. denoting place of origin, and of similar value to the prefix de in French, von in German, and van in Dutch. In addition to such names as Velensky, Willenski and Wilenski from Wilna; Warschawsky from Warsaw; Lubinski from Lubin; Lublinski from Lublin, we derive from Poland Warschauer from Warsaw; Kalisch, Kalischer, Kaliskie and probably Carlish from Kalisz and Kutner from Kutno. From tbe name of tbe province itself we get Poland, Pollock, Polack, Polak, Pollak, Poole, Pool and De Polacco.


Other historical articles about Jewish names:
Jewish Names from the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (1917)
Casual racism and onomastics from a century ago

For all articles on Jewish names from this site, go to the Names page.

Casual racism and onomastics from a century ago

problems-with-foreign-reg-thumbnailI recently came across this article, published in Volume 40 of Library Journal in 1915. The article, written for librarians obviously, explains the problem faced by libraries in areas with large populations of Jews. The problem addressed is the large variation in names among Jews, something well documented elsewhere but interesting in this article for its practical purpose (signing up library patrons) as long as you can excuse its casual racism.

One interesting item is the mention of the Brownsville branch of the Brooklyn public library building a Jewish name index to use to solve this problem. I’ve contacted the library and am waiting to hear back if they still have a copy of the mentioned index. That would be an interesting document to see.

The whole volume (1036 pages) is available on the Internet Archive (pages 402-405), although I’ve made a copy of just the relevant pages available as well for those interested in seeing the original. Otherwise, I’ve reproduced the complete text below:


     To understand properly the problems arising in the registration file of a library composed largely of Jewish readers, it is almost necessary to know something of the history of the Jewish language.

     Fishberg, in his book, “The Jews,” says: “Peculiar as it may appear to the uninformed, it is nevertheless a fact that there is no such language as could properly be called ‘Jewish’ When the language called Jewish is used as the mother tongue by some Jews, as is the case with Spagnuoli, Yiddish, Judaeo-Persian, it is not at all a Jewish language in the strict sense of the word. Each of these dialects is not understood by all Jews, the Yiddish-speaking Jew not understanding his Spanish co-religionists, the Persian not understanding either, while very few indeed understand Hebrew.”

     From the Babylonian captivity, the Jews have spoken, in turn, Chaldaic, Greek, Arabic, coming in the middle ages to the language of whatever European country they settled in, and this language, probably at first, certainly later, they wrote in Hebrew characters. From the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries the persecution of the Jews was widespread, and during that time laws were passed in the countries where they were allowed to remain restricting them to the Ghetto. As a result of this isolation, the language retained the vernacular of the middle ages. When persecutions drove many of the German Jews to Poland and further east, they by their superior culture were able to impose their language on their brethren, incorporating, however, many words of the eastern language. Thus, as Fishberg states: “The most widespread of the Jewish dialect is Yiddish (Judaeo-German, Judische); more than one-half of all the Jews in the world speak it. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century the Yiddish- speaking Jews were concentrated in Poland, Russia, Roumania, Austria-Hungary and parts of Germany. Since they began to wander away from their native lands during the last fifty years, they have carried this dialect into all parts of the globe. It is natural that the first generation should employ this dialect” in the new country, but “changes have taken place by the introduction of new words and phrases borrowed from” their new neighbors. “As is the rule in western Europe, the Jews of England and the United States give up Yiddish in favor of English. The children of the immigrants, compelled to speak to their parents in Yiddish, learn somewhat of this dialect, but practically never speak it among themselves.”

     Before showing how these differing nationalities and dialects have affected the names of our foreign Jewish population, a word must be said about the names themselves.

     A good story is told of the origin of names. Adam and Eve were assigning names in Eden, and after finishing with the plants, birds and beasts, finally came to men. As these filed by names were given them, Brown to this one, Sherman to that, Goldberg to the next and so on. Eve at last became tired, and seeing a long line still coming, she turned wearily to Adam, and said, “Let’s call all the rest Cohen.” And this accounts for so many Cohens.

     Though surnames were not unknown among the early Jews, they were not common, even as late as the eighteenth century. In 1787, however, Austria and Bohemia compelled the Jews to adopt surnames, which, until 1836 in Bohemia, were restricted to Biblical names. Napoleon in 1808 also compelled the Jews of France to adopt surnames and limited the free choice of names. Therefore, names of Biblical origin are naturally most numerous, such as Aaron, Cohen, Levy, and their variants. Then came names taken from localities, as Berlin, Hollander, London, the larger proportion of these being German. Next in order were names taken from their trades or occupations, as Schneider, in English Taylor, Goldsmith, Scherer and the like. Some called themselves from their fathers Abramson, Isaacson; while some, I understand, even bought theirs from their Christian neighbors.

     With this enforced adoption of a surname, there is, of course, no feeling attached to it, nor any pride or sentiment such as we feel in connection with a long ancestry.

     Among the Jewish immigrants here in New York we have representatives from all Europe, and as is natural, a name will vary with the different countries and dialects. Take, for example, the most usual surname of European Jews as given in the Jewish Encyclopedia Cohen. It is the Hebrew for “priest,” and indicates a family claiming descent from Aaron, the high priest, therefore of the ecclesiastical class, as Levy indicates the middle class, and Israel the common people. “Cohen” is the usual transliteration in English-speaking countries, but Cowan and Cowen also occur. Russia has a form Kagan and Kogen, which will be explained later, with Cahan, Kahana and others; Italy has Coen; France, Cahn, Caen and others. There are many variants, as is shown by the following sample taken from the library registration file.

     Cohen — Cahan, Cahn, Choen, Coan, Coane, Cogan, Cogen, Cohan, Cohn, Cohon, Cone, Coun, Cowan, Cowen, Coyne, Kagan, Kahan, Kahn, Keohan, Koen, Kohen, Kohn, Kohne, Kowen, Kuhn.

     While the country and the dialect form one cause of confusion in names, transliteration is a great factor. One or two examples of transliteration from the Russian will show more clearly than any explanation can do how difficult it is to transliterate, and what a part the dialects play. Take the well-known names of Dostoyevsky, spelled also Dostoieffsky and four other ways, and Turgenieff, also spelled Turgenev. These are all from reliable authorities. Which is correct ? When doctors disagree, who is to decide? The Russian v is pronounced as English /, the w as v. A common ending of Russian names, wits may be vitz, witch, vitch, wich or vich. Unlike our dialects of North, South and West, where with one spelling we pronounce certain words differently, in Russia each district has its own spelling corresponding to the pronunciation. In one district the name of Nudelman, in i another is spelled Needleman; in the first case the Russian vowel can be transliterated or oo, in the last as ee or ie.

     Russian also has one equivalent for both the English g and h, so a distinctly Russian name as Hirshkowitz may also be Girshkowitz, and as we have seen, Cohen may become Cogen. Let us trace other variations in that one name Hirshkowitz besides the g and h. Substitute e for i, sch for sh, and any of the above forms for wits, and you have forty-eight ways of spelling that one name, to an almost hopeless confusion in our registration files.

     Yiddish has its difficulties. Take Cohen again for an example. In the Yiddish spelling the first letter may be transliterated either c or k, the second a or o, the third h, and the last n (Cahn or Cohn, Kahn or Kohn). As vowels are rarely employed except to help the beginner, the e can be supplied or not, and can be put in any place. Add to this the variations due to country and dialect, and as has been shown, we have over twenty ways of spelling the name. Who wants to collate Cohen in twenty places in a registration file? And I leave to your imagination the variety of ways in which the vowel sounds can be written in English from the sound alone, especially when pronounced by the uneducated foreigner with his poor enunciation.

     His ignorance and the carelessness that goes with it are other great factors in this confusion of names. Mr. Solis-Cohen says, more especially of the Russian Jews: “Not many more than two adults in fifty will always spell their own names the same way, and for every member of a family to spell the family name alike is unusual. This happens chiefly because people think of the name in their vernacular and the way it is transliterated cr translated is an unimportant detail. Moreover, when they first arrive and begin to learn our characters, they spell their names phonetically, not becoming acquainted with the vagaries of English spelling until much later. With children, much of the trouble is due to Anglicizing a foreign name, e. g., changing Rosinsky to Rosen, and to the carelessness of the school teacher, who insists that a child spell his name a certain way without first discovering how his father spells it.” I may say here, however, that it is sometimes impossible to find out how he does spell it. It may be that six months ago he spelled it one way and to-day, having no occasion to write it in English meanwhile, he will have forgotten how he did spell it and will use a different form. When asked which way he prefers he will shrug his shoulders and say : “It makes no difference ; it is all the same.” “All the same” we would like to know his choice, and it is often left to us to decide the form.

     Help has come to the schools, as for the past two years they have required birth certificates at the time of registering. Many foreigners have to send to their native countries for them, and through these some queer mistakes have come to light, mistakes that were made at the immigration station when arriving in this country. Here is one. Two children of a family were registered as Isaac and Jacob, but when the birth certificate came it was found the elder was Jacob, and he had been using his brother’s name all these years. It is almost unbelievable that the parents should not have known the names or were careless enough to allow the change. Such changes of names, and especially a change of surname, is probably due to the confusion attendant on landing in a strange country. The foreigner is ignorant of the language, the official is obliged to enter hundreds of names, names enunciated very poorly, and which the immigrant cannot spell in English, if at all, and so, with no time to patiently question the man, the nearest name sounding like the one pronounced is given him. With the respect for official authority, which the immigrant feels he must obey, he accepts the name without question and not until months later, when he has learned somewhat of the language and customs of the country, does he realize he can return to his own name. And he does so without notice to the proper authorities or with any thought of wrongdoing.

     Poor enunciation, someone has said, is a racial characteristic of the Jews, though with care it can be overcome, as faults of pronunciation can also be corrected. The Lithuanian Jews cannot pronounce sh or sch they say s, as Savinsky for Schavinsky while the Roumanian Jews are like the London cockney in the use of h, Eller for Heller, Hoberman for Oberman; but children brought up in this country can pronounce these sounds. When there is intermarriage between these two countries, the children of the family will use both or either, and spell as they pronounce.

     Other cases could be given, but I think these are enough to show some of the causes of confusion in names, and how few people really have any intention of deceiving when they change the spelling. Where deception is met with, it is usually a deliberate translation, as from Schwartz to Black, or they change to a very different name, as. from Raflowitz to Cohen. Some have a different name at home, to what they have, say, registered at the gas company. One child recently could not remember whether her card at the library was under her own or her “gas-meter” name. There is one peculiarity all should know. “Junior” is so rare that you could say it is never met with. It is not customary to name a child for father or grandfather if either is living; they think it brings bad luck. If, therefore, a child gives his name the same as his father it is best to question him carefully.

     Among the poorer classes they seem to have no idea of the value of a signature. Time and time again parents, almost invariably those who cannot write English or cannot write at all, when they come to the library to endorse their child’s application, will tell the child to sign for them. And I should say most o*f these are the women. A borrower leaving this country to return to his native land will bequeath or sell his library card to a friend, who, upon the expiration of the application, will renew it, signing the friend’s name. And he will do this all in good faith.

     These and many more are the problems to be met with in a Jewish registration file, and probably similar ones are to be found among other nationalities.

     At the Brownsville branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, as an attempt to meet this problem, they are using the group system of filing instead of the strictly alphabetical one. All variations of a name are filed, as a rule, under the most common form, with cross references and extended forms directly after the simple or root name. An index of all the names is being made in the form of the A. L. A. index to subject headings, using “See also,” or, rather, “Collate with,” in cases where names are similar, though they are not put together in the application file. Great care has to be used in this grouping not to carry it too far. Names that in a Jewish neighborhood have been found interchangeable, as Black and Blake, in a strictly American one would never be considered the same and should not be put together. Each library, therefore, has its own problems to deal with in its own way, and this is only an attempt at solving the Jewish one.

     The following are samples from the in index, showing the strictly alphabetical index
with variations under “Refer from,” and names it is well to “Collate with” under that heading :

  Ref. from: Shefloff
  Ref. from: Shegal
  Ref. from : Schien, Shein
Coll. with: Scheinberg, Scheinhaus, Scheinman.
  Ref. from: Schienberg, Schoenberg, Schonberg
Coll. with: Schein, Schonberger.
  Coll. with: Scheinerman
  Coll. with : Scheiner, Scheinman
  Coll. with: Schein
Scheinker, see Schenker
  Ref. from: Shenman
Coll. with: Schein, Scheinerman
  Coll. with: Schenkman
  Ref. from : Scheinker
  Ref. from: Schinkman, Shankman, Sheinkman, Shenkman
Coll. with: Schenck
  Ref. from: Scharr, Schear, Scheer, Schier, Schoer, Schor, Schore, Schorr, Schurr, Shar, Shear, Sheer, Sheir, Sher, Shoor, Shor, Shore, Shorr, Shur, Shure
Coll. with: Shaw


Other historical articles about Jewish names:
Jewish Names from the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (1917)
Jewish Surnames: An instructive and suggestive essay on an interesting subject (1904)

For all articles on Jewish names from this site, go to the Names page.