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GIVEN NAMES, JUDAISM, AND JEWISH HISTORY
5. JEWISH GIVEN NAMES, 1795-1925
5.2. YIDDISH NAMES
Yiddish names may be divided into two groups: regular Yiddish names, and Yiddish nicknames (diminutive, familiar, or pet names). In the rabbinic and research literature, legal regular Yiddish names were usually called kinuim, although the term kinui was sometimes used for other regular Yiddish names which were not normally used to form legal double names. In this document about Jewish given names, the term "Yiddish name" is used for the first group (legal or not), while the term "Yiddish nickname" is used for the second group. The intent is to express the importance and legitimacy of normal Yiddish names and at the same time to distinguish them from diminutive and other such names which were and are used today within the family, social community, and other close venues. Eastern European Jewry created enormous numbers of Yiddish nicknames, expressing the closeness of the family and community, as well as the warm intimacy of the Yiddish language. By comparison, the number of regular Yiddish names was much smaller.
Most regular Yiddish names are readily recognized and distinguished from the secular given names found in European countries, but sometimes it is difficult to make this distinction -- some secular names were imported as-is to Yiddish, while others underwent modifications in order to make them phonetically correct. It is fair to say that most (but not all) of the vernacular names used by Central and Eastern European Jews were considered by them to be Yiddish names, despite their possible origins in other cultures. Numerous examples of Yiddish given names have been presented previously.
Yiddish nicknames (diminutive, familiar, or pet names) have typical types of suffixes. Most were borrowed from German, Slavic, Polish, and Belorussian suffixes, and became Yiddish suffixes, the number of Slavic suffixes being much larger than the German ones. Some of the suffix types given below (for example, -l and -ele, or -ka and -ko) were much more common than others, and the preferences for one or another suffix varied from country to country. In general, names with these suffixes are recognized as diminutive, familiar, or pet Yiddish names. The suffix lists given below should not be considered to be exhaustive (Eastern European Jews were very inventive!), nor to cover every European country where Yiddish was used. The suffixes shown (in the first and third lists) can in theory be used for both simple addition to a regular Yiddish name, and for addition to a shortened form of that Yiddish name, but not in every country.
Some Yiddish names having these suffixes are not actually nicknames, but rather are regular Yiddish names.
Yiddish nicknames were used as legal or Hebrew names for men less frequently than were regular Yiddish names -- usually, only in cases where confusion of identity would otherwise have occurred. For women, however, Yiddish nicknames were frequently used as the legal name for a woman, women in fact preferring them over the more standard Yiddish or Hebrew names from which they might be derived or to which they were commonly linked.
One of the 19th century East European Hilchot Gitin books makes this point clearly:
"There are two general rules which must be recognized about women's names. 1. That one records only the name by which she is called, despite the fact that it is clear that it was derived from some other specific name... This is not like the case for men who are called to the Tora and one always knows their Shem HaKodesh. For example, for the woman's name Avgali which is known to be derived from the name Avigayil, and we might be tempted to write her name as "Avigayil hamechuna (or demitkarya) Avgali"; as long as one does not know for sure that her (Hebrew) name was Avigayil and she was known also as Avgali, the name Avigayil is not written at all. And 2. That even if a woman has a name that is clearly a diminutive or pet name that for men would never be written (in a Get), such as Berka, Berele, Hirshele, and so on, for women, one does record names such as Khanula, Rekhl, Sherl, Bashka, and so on.
This is the case since for women they are the essence of their name and they do want people to call them by these names, because they are light-hearted and proud when one calls them by diminutive and pet names, and they consider this to be an honor. Importance is in the eyes of the reader and this will endear them."
Yiddish nicknames were formed by the following processes:
1. Diminutive suffixes added to Yiddish names:
2. Shortened-name forms:
3. Diminutive suffixes added to shortened- (& modified-) name forms:
* Slavic suffix