Infofiles Index


Famous Rabbinical Surnames

Surnames were in use in Western Europe many centuries prior to their adoption under duress by government legislation in Eastern Europe. Descendants of rabbinical families who migrated eastwards from Germany and France to the Russian Empire took their surnames with them and these appear in communal records in eastern Europe long before the beginning of the nineteenth century when surnames became obligatory.

Whilst eastern European families bearing these names may be able to claim descent from the older Western European root of these families, it should not be forgotten that these names could have been adopted by unrelated families. Indeed the Baron Gunzberg engaged in a law suit against families that adopted his surname.

Spanish and Portuguese families certainly used surnames prior to their expulsions. Some of those names were disseminated throughout Europe after the expulsions. Examples include the Benveniste family whose descendants split into two branches and took the names Epstein and Horowitz. The Ibn Yechia (later Don Yechia) family left Portugal and branches settled in many parts of the Mediterranean area before spreading to Germany and then northeastern Russia. The family provided a dynasty of rabbis in what is now Latvia and Belarus. A related family with a similar history is the Charlap family.(F2) The family retains the original surname to this day. Another prominent Sefardi family that reached eastern Europe was Abarbanel. It should be noted that these families did not retain Sefardi traditions after settling amongst Ashkenazim.

It should be remembered that families changed their names for various reasons, not the least of which was to avoid military service in the notoriously anti-Semitic Tsarist army. Thus siblings often bore different surnames, as the names were changed to those of completely unrelated families or of maternal or in-law lines.

The naming process was too random to try to make genealogical connections based solely on the occurrence of the same surname. Other supporting historical/genealogical information is required. Certainly onomastic studies are a tool that can aid genealogy, but onomastics alone cannot provide genealogical proof.

Chaim Freedman
Petah Tikva, Israel

Rabbinical surnames derived from place names

  • Auerbach (Averbakh, Averbukh)
  • Bach(a)rach (Bakhrakh)
  • Bloch (Blokh)
  • Broda (Brojdo, Brojde, Braude)
  • Eilenberg
  • Eisenstadt
  • Epstein (Epshtejn)
  • Ettinger
  • Fraenkel (Frenkel)
  • Guenzburg (Ginsburg, Gintsburg)
  • Halberstadt (Gal'berstadt)
  • Heilprin or Heilpern (Gal'pern, Gal'perin)
  • Gordon
  • Horowitz (Gurevich, Gurvich, Gorovits)
  • Katzenellenbogen (Katsenelenbogen)
  • Landau (Landa)
  • Lipschuetz (Livshits, Lifshits, Lipshits)
  • Luria (Lur'e)
  • Mintz (Mints)
  • Muravchik
  • Rapoport
  • Rothenberg
  • Spira (Shapiro, Shapira)
  • Treves (Trivush)

Rabbinical surnames based on the Hebrew lexicon

  • Ashkenazi
  • Heifetz (Khejfets)
  • Jaffe (Ioffe)
  • Margolioth (Margolis, Margulis)
  • Shor
  • Teomin (Teumin)
  • Zak

Time periods for adopting surnames

In the 14th century:
  • Luria
  • Mintz
  • Treves
In the 16th century:
  • Fraenkel
  • Guenzburg
  • Jaffe
  • Katzenellenbogen
  • Lipschuetz
  • Muravchik
  • Rapoport
In the 15th century:
  1. Auerbach
  2. Bacharach
  3. Epstein
  4. Horowitz
  5. Landau
  6. Margolioth

In the 17th century:

  • Broda
  • Heilprin
  • Teomim
  • Zak

Sephardic Surnames

Sephardic surnames typically originate in the 10th to 14th centuries and very often even earlier. For further information, see http://www.orthohelp.com/geneal/differ.htm.

4See Surnames of Rabbinical Families for a chart of more than 100 Ashkenazic and Sephardic surnames and their variants, meaning, and century of origin. Additional notes and links to further information are included.


Footnotes

1. The first section is excerpted from: Freedman, Chaim. Beit Rabbanan: Sources of Rabbinic Genealogy. Petah Tikva, Israel: self-published, 2001. Used with permission. (return)

2. Menton, Arthur F. The Book of Destiny, Toledot Charlap. 1996, King David Press, Cold Spring Harbor, New York, USA. (return