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By the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment (1700), Hebrew names included Tanakhic (Avraham, Yitschak);  Talmudic Aramaic (Akiva, Shamay);  miscellaneous Hebrew/Aramaic and Hebrew calques (Chaim, Zeev/Wolf);  and absorbed Greek and Latin (Aleksander, Antignos) names.  These classical Hebrew names consisted of single (Avraham), double (Avraham Aharon), triple (Avraham Aharon Akiva), and quadruple (Avraham Aharon Akiva Chaim) names, all of which imply the person was named after from one to four different other people.  Such names were Jewish (not civil) legal names in the fullest sense.  Such unlinked multiple Hebrew names are not listed in the GNDBs because their combination is entirely arbitrary.


After Yiddish language development began about 1000 CE, another group of Jewish names developed -- those in which a Yiddish name (Leyb, Leml, Beylka) was added to a classic Hebrew name.  Accordingly, these new multiple names required new authorization by major (leading) rabbis so that also they could be legally used in Jewish contracts (ketuva, get, etc.) and to call men to the Torah in an aliya.  Since the divorce contract (get) was so important throughout Jewish history, rabbinical experts used it as the vehicle for specifying these new legal Jewish names, it being essential to write the names of the man and woman precisely and accurately, since this can affect future re-marriage and the status of new offspring as Jews.

Thus, Hilchot Gitin books were written over the centuries in Europe for combinations of classical Hebrew and Yiddish names, and these books are still used today.  For example, the book Get Mesudar written by Eliezer Mintz near the Germany/Poland border in the early twentieth century and based on Western European Ashkenazic tradition, is still a standard in Israel, Holland, and other countries.

In Germany, Poland, and Hungary as compared to Eastern Europe at large, the use of vernacular German and local names during the nineteenth century became so common that the rabbis responded by allowing these secular names (about 500) to be added to Hebrew names in order to create multiple legal names.  These multiple names corresponded in every respect to the Hebrew-Yiddish names already used in Eastern Europe.  Get Mesudar contains a long listing of secular German, Polish, and Hungarian names for use by Jews in legal double names.

The Bet Shmuel book (mainly Poland) is considered to be a primary authority, and a few others have also achieved this distinction.  These standard books are often cited by authors writing more locally-oriented books (e.g., Aruch HaShulchan, for Lithuania, Belarus, northeast Ukraine, northeast Poland), giving examples of how their local names differ from those cited in the standard books, and also resolving differences among the masters.  The standard books written by masters tended to cover larger, multi-dialect areas of Europe, while the localized books were usually for smaller one-dialect regions.  Frequently, the standard books distinguished between the usage in one or another country for certain Yiddish names, although sometimes they did not, leaving it up to the local rabbis to interpret how the standards applied in their community.  This characteristic makes the work of preparing one-region GNDBs more difficult.

The main objective of these books was to prevent a formal Jewish contract from misidentifying a woman or man in the contract.  In the case of men, his Hebrew+Yiddish name was his legal name and had to be given correctly.  In the case of women in Eastern Europe, who more often than not did not have a Hebrew name at all, her Yiddish name had to be given correctly, for that was her legal name;  in general, women's non-kinui secular names were not used as legal names if they had a Hebrew and/or Yiddish name.  For women in Western and West-Central Europe who sometimes did not have Hebrew or Yiddish names, their secular name was their legal name.  In a sense, one might wish to call this woman's name her "Hebrew" name, but this was not usually acceptable -- it was her legal name.


In cases where a man or woman had a Hebrew name but was commonly also known by a special type of non-Hebrew name called a kinui, which might lead to confusion in specifying exactly who he/she was, the Rabbis defined two categories of linkage between Hebrew and non-Hebrew names: haMechune ("who was commonly known as", or "alias"), and demitkari ("who was called"), which must be written that way in the contract. The term kinui is a technical legal term as used by the rabbis -- it means a non-Hebrew name that must be used with haMechune or demitkari.

For example, Menachem haMechune Mendl, or Chaya haMechuna Khayka for haMechune;  and Berekhya demitkari Barakh, or Hinde demitkarya Pesl, or Pesl demitkarya Sara for demitkari.  "HaMechune" was used when the main name was Hebrew, and the subsidiary name was in another language (Yiddish or accepted secular).  "Demitkari" was used when both names were in Hebrew, or both were in a non-Hebrew language, or the main name is in a non-Hebrew language and the subsidiary name is in Hebrew.

Today, some use the term kinui loosely to mean simply a "nickname", but this is not proper usage in Jewish rabbinic law, and is to be avoided in genealogical research and rabbinical activities.

A kinui is a Yiddish or secular name which has been authorized in a Hilchot Gitin book to be combined via "haMechune" or "demitkari" with its linked Hebrew name(s).  Thus a man might have the Hebrew name Yehuda and the Yiddish name Leml, and these would be written in a Get as Yehuda Leml, not with haMechune or demitkari, because these are not formally linked names in a Hilchot Gitin book.

When Menachem was called to the Torah, the name that had to be used was Menachem Mendl, not Menachem and not Mendl.  An example of a woman's legal double name which is not formed from any Hebrew names (but rather from two Yiddish names) is Liba demitkarya Lipka.  These "double names" are then the legal names of Jews and are a major focus in the Given Names Databases. This also holds true for triple and quadruple names.


The community rabbi usually employed a sofer (scribe) to write the Get but the rabbi was the ultimate authority -- he made the final decisions on how names were to be written.  Over the centuries, some rabbis have followed the recommendations of the experts who wrote the Hilchot Gitin books if a clear ruling existed;  if not, the community rabbi made his own decision.  In cases of doubt or need, e.g, when the Hilchot Gitin books did not provide clear guidelines, or when several people with the same Hebrew or legal name might have existed in his community, many rabbis would themselves adopt more stringent approaches to writing the Get -- they would use the person's kinui and/or nickname linked to his Hebrew/legal name to form a Hebrew multiple name, even though the Hilchot Gitin book only stated that this nickname existed (or did not mention the nickname at all), but did not state that the nickname must be written;  this eliminated doubt as to the identity of the person.

The GNDBs reflect this problem.  The legal names which appear in the GNDBs are only those which were required to be written by the writer of the Hilchot Gitin book.  Other nicknames mentioned by the writer appear in the GNDBs only as nicknames, but not in combination so as to form multiple legal names.  It is therefor possible that genealogical researchers may occasionally find some double names in archives which do not appear in the GNDBs because they were the product of special circumstances.

The GNDBs also reflect some other subtle differences expressed by the rabbis.  For example, if some women used a certain Yiddish name more frequently than another (or the reverse), then this would appear in the get as follows:  Basha demitkarya Bashka in the first case, but Bashka demitkarya Basha in the reverse case.  This will be seen in the GNDBs where only one double-name entry is made and an asterisk is added after the two names to indicate that either name order is valid.  And three different legal alternatives might appear in yet another record (Basha/Bashe/Bashka).

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