The Late Professor G. L. Esterson
Ra'anana, Israel


EXPERIENCED USERS: Go directly to the Search-Input Form.


A searchable data base has been set up for Jewish given names used in Galicia during 1795-1925, and links are made in each record to the new local vernacular names adopted in this same time period in nine Foreign countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Palestine, South Africa, UK, US) to which Galician Jews migrated. The data base includes the Hebrew, Yiddish, and local & other-European-country secular names used in Galicia, as well as new vernacular names used in foreign countries.

This data base of linked Galician and foreign-country given names was derived from Hilchot Gitin books, archival Galician records, given names books, non-European gravestone readings, contributions from researchers, and other sources. It enables genealogists to list all of the alternative Jewish and vernacular names which an ancestor may have used in Europe and in his new country of immigration, and will be a useful part of comprehensive programs of genealogical research, such as Basics of the JewishGen Web Site.

Each record in the Galicia data base has one field containing a Primary given name (like Yehuda Leyb) which was recognized by Jews as the legal Jewish Name for recording the names of women and men in Jewish legal documents (Get, ketuva, and other Jewish contracts), and for calling a man to the Torah for an aliya. Other fields in the record contain all the Yiddish and secular names which were commonly linked to the Primary name in Galicia; some of these names were major names (like Yiddish versions of Yehuda, and the Yiddish name Leyb), while others were simply names of endearment (like Yiddish name Yidele), diminutives (Yudya), or others. And yet other fields contain all the foreign vernacular names a Galician emigrant might have adopted in one of the nine foreign countries to which he migrated. Each name field contains between 0 and 35 given names, depending on the Galician and foreign name popularity and usage, and on project status.

During the nineteenth century, Primary given names were composed of a classical Hebrew name plus either "Old" or "NEW" names as the rabbis defined them; thus, Primary names could contain a single Hebrew name or multiple names, e.g. Yehuda Leyb. Old names were Yiddish names, while the 500 NEW names were German, Polish, Hungarian, or other secular names accepted by the rabbis for writing in a Jewish divorce document in Hebrew characters. The NEW names were embraced first by German Jews after the acceptance of Jews into German society during the Enlightenment, spreading later to Poland and Hungary where Jews added or substituted local secular names to the German list. The legal NEW names are printed in capital letters in the GNDBs and are labeled there as 'new' names, while non-legal secular names extracted from archival documents are presented in upper and lower case letters.

Since normal onomastic studies (the origin and history of given names) would not lead to the correct structure of our data bases as described above, we used for this purpose instead the rabbinic sources known as Hilchot Gitin (Laws of Divorce) -- Jewish law books written by expert, prominent rabbis as guides for community rabbis who prepared Jewish divorce documents.


Classical onomastic studies (like the recent book by Alexander Beider, "A Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names") are mostly based on extracting given names from older books similarly written, and organizing the names in groups according to Jewish migration, the corresponding appearance of new Jewish names in European immigration countries, and hypothetical rules created by the writer. Usually, these rules are based on how people would be expected to change name pronunciations based on logical, phonetic considerations. After extracting the names from other books, a common approach is to assemble the name consonants in order, to list all variations as each vowel between pairs of consonants is changed, and to group the names according to the rules. As expected, different researchers came to different conclusions as to the structures of the name groupings, since each used his own set of rules. The results are presented in book form. This approach may be called the "Secular-Scientific" approach, since it embeds Jewish given names studies inside the more general secular onomastic studies and follows a scientific procedure.

The Given Names Data Bases project takes a new, different approach, based on the authoritative, legal books of Jewish divorce law written by European rabbis, and which were legal guidelines for community rabbis who prepared divorce documents. In their own research and consultations with their colleagues, these experts co-ordinated new developments with those of prior rabbis and created over time (beginning in the eleventh century) a single set of rules for associating names with one another and in spelling the names using Hebrew characters. These rules were not based on the historical changes of names beginning with a single "progenitor" name, and on a set of logical, phonetic rules of change, but rather reflected how ordinary people in the target population actually chose their names and the name combinations they ended up choosing, based on actual field data available to the rabbis. In this method, a team effort over an extended period resulted in one agreed-upon rule set which could be applied to different European regions in accord with natural differences. The local exceptions not fitting the rules and problems of names missing from the books were to be resolved by the local community rabbi.

Thus, our project began by extracting from the Hilchot Gitin books applicable to each target region, the legal and vernacular (Yiddish, local, and European secular) Jewish names defined by the rabbis, then entering them in a basic framework data base. This data base contained the legal single and multiple names, the Yiddish and diminutive names and the names of endearment defined by the rabbis, and the corresponding local and European secular names also defined by them. In this framework were then embedded additional given names we extracted from regional archival documents (e.g. revision lists) and other sources, based on numerous towns throughout the region to achieve uniform coverage. To these name groupings were added the linked foreign vernacular names adopted by Jews in their new countries. This approach may be called the "Jewish-Legal" approach, since it takes a purely Jewish approach to given names, relying only on Jewish rabbinic sources to define the method and framework, and thus acquiring legal status.

The advantages of the Secular-Scientific approach are: Jewish given names study is embedded in the broader set of onomastic names study, providing a more general picture; schemes of name development are proposed for the extended period from the eleventh to the twentieth centuries; lists of names are presented for major cities in various European regions in an orderly manner, sometimes along with citation of sources (book, date, pages); and an extensive body of onomastic literature has been developed which is useful for further research by onomasticians, as well as for use by Jewish genealogists. The weaknesses of the Scientific approach are: there is a tendency to de-emphasize the more intimate names (e.g., names of endearment) used inside Jewish homes; the name presentations in books are not in a form useful for Jewish genealogists researching their European ancestors during the last few centuries, since they require manual extraction of sought-after names embedded in long lists of different types of information; the listings do not make clear the natural linkages between various names in a given region; classification of names as Hebrew, Yiddish, or secular are usually not made or are unclear; relatively few large cities and very few small towns in European regions are represented; no foreign name information is presented for Jews who emigrated to foreign countries; and natural disagreements exist between various onomastic researchers, leading to confusion as to how Jewish genealogists should interpret the listed data.

The advantages of the Jewish-Legal approach are: it places emphasis on the Jewish aspects of Jewish given names, including intimate names used within the family; the name groupings are based on Jewish divorce law and therefor have legal status; the 15 regional data bases are easy to use, displaying search results on a computer monitor in easy to understand groupings, without other distracting information; search results show name classifications clearly; linked foreign vernacular names used by European Jews who immigrated to foreign countries are shown with the European names; and a uniform coverage of large and small towns in each European region is presented. The weaknesses of the Jewish-Legal approach are: the data organization relates only loosely to the historical development of Jewish names over time in Europe; the applicable time period is only 1795-1925, and earlier period-spans will need to be developed separately; and no information is presented for specific cities or towns, only a region-wide average.

The differences between the Secular-Scientific and the Jewish-Legal approaches resemble the different approaches to studies in other Jewish areas such as religion, Jewish history, Jewish culture, Jewish art, and so on, and it was to be expected that these two different approaches would arise. These differences enrich Judaism by broadening our understanding of things Jewish.

In conclusion, the main uses for given names collections based on the Secular-Scientific approach are by onomasticians doing research in this field and by Jewish genealogists who wish to find out how given names evolved over time in their region of interest. The main use for the Given Names Data Bases using the Jewish-Legal approach is by Jewish genealogists researching their European ancestors in the period 1795-1925; onomasticians will have lesser interest in the GNDBs. Thus, the first approach is mainly oriented toward onomasticians, while the second is oriented towards Jewish genealogy researchers.


Since this is an on-going project, we present here a table of the current status of the six sequential work phases; this status is given by an index of completion on a scale from 0 to 10. Entry 1 is the number of records in the current data base, and is followed by the current values of the six status indexes. Individual indexes of completion are also given for the nine foreign countries to which European emigrants immigrated; a zero-entry for a foreign country indicates that no given names are in that field for any records.

Number of records in current data base 742
Create Basic-Hebrew names data base 10
Enter Hilchot Gitin Hebrew/Yiddish names 3
Enter archival Hebrew/Yiddish/EuroSecular names     2
Enter foreign Hebrew/Yiddish/Vernacular names 4
Standardize Yiddish names in data base 1
Refine records in data base 4
Argentina 3
Australia 0
Brazil 0
Canada 0
Mexico 0
Palestine 0
South Africa 0
United Kingdom 1
United States 4

Data Base and Table: 10 February 2002
Previous Update of Data Base: 22 Nov 2001


Among the factors influencing the choice of given names by Jews during the nineteenth century were: the religious/cultural make-up of groups of Jews (religiously observant, cultural, secular, or converted), the dialect of Yiddish which they spoke, the surrounding non-Jewish culture, contacts with new Jewish immigrants to their region, and contacts with non-local European Jews. These factors influenced name choice even from town to town, but each Given Names Data Base averages out these variations on a countrywide basis. Never the less, those using the GNDBs can take these factors into account in an approximate way as follows.

For a country's Jews, the first three factors created a basic long-term style in naming their newborns, differentiating them from Jews in other countries, while the last two factors account for the near-term impacts of new Jewish migrants to the country, and for familial or business contacts with non-local-country Jews. The first group of three factors generated the background name-creation process for a country, while the second group of two factors was dependent on foreign influences. The existing GNDB for a country represents mainly the first group's influence, but also includes a diluted effect of the second group. Thus, by searching the GNDB of a target country, one concentrates on the major local factors. But we can also account for "external" effects.

The boundaries between European countries were quite porous, with Jews from one country moving to another or marrying their children off to local Jews and to those in adjacent countries. A rule of thumb for adjacent- country population penetration is a 1-2 day trip, about 30-60 kms, to account for the depth of population exchanges across boundaries. That is, the given names collection from country A penetrated a distance of about 30-60 kms into country B. This description is supported by name-density studies near European country boundaries. We can use this description to devise a procedure representing the influence of the last two "external" factors on the total pool of given names for our research in the main target country.

The procedure, then, for those whose ancestors lived within about 50 km of the boundary to their country is to search in the GNDB of the adjacent country, thus enlarging the pool of names to watch for in archival documents. So if your Galician ancestors lived close to the border with Poland, it would be wise to search the Poland GNDB as well as the Galicia GNDB. This compensates partially for imported names missed by the discrete sampling process near the boundary.

The impact of Yiddish dialects in Europe can also be dealt with approximately. The boundaries between the four major Yiddish dialect regions cut right through some countries (e.g., Ukraine, Romania), cut off small pieces of others (Suwalk Gubernia from Poland), and in some cases, included several countries within one dialect region (Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus; and Poland and Galicia). Thus, the administrative boundaries which defined these countries did not always define the Yiddish dialect spoken there. For example, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Suwalk Gubernia, and northeastern Ukraine defined the region of the Litvish Yiddish dialect, and it is not surprising that there are numerous similarities between the given names collections for these four. And most of Poland and much of Galicia defined the Polish/Galicianer dialect, and many similarities existed in their sets of given names.

By contrast, from a Yiddish dialect point of view, Galicia was split into two regions -- a western part where Polish/Galician Yiddish was spoken, and an eastern part where Ukrainian Yiddish was spoken. This means that Jews in these two regions, while similar in some ways, were quite different in others. Thus, if your ancestors lived in the eastern part of Galicia, you should also search for additional given names using the Ukraine GNDB, as well as the Galicia GNDB.

In general, the region covered by the Galicia GNDB is the Galicia commonly defined in the early 20th century. However, that Galicia is divided into Western and Eastern Galicia, the latter being administratively in the Ukraine of today. This "Ukrainian" East Galicia region (or "Galician Ukraine", depending on your point of view) is itself split by a vertical line such that Jews in its west part used the Polish/Galician Yiddish dialect, while Jews in the small east part used the Ukraine Yiddish dialect. You should use a map to understand where these regions are.

In West Ukraine, the entire portion of Ukraine that was originally in East Galicia may be defined approximately by a "trapezoid" which extends from today's West Ukraine border eastward to a line running from Brody (25 20 E, 50 10 N) in the north, to Darabani (26 40 E, 48 20 N) in the south. This "Ukrainian-East-Galicia trapezoid" is divided by a vertical line running from Brody in the north, to Borsa (24 50 E, 47 50 N) in the south. The "triangle" east of this vertical line was in the Ukraine Yiddish dialect area and searches in this region should be made in the Ukraine GNDB. West of this vertical line (in the Polish Yiddish dialect area), searches should be made using this Galicia GNDB.


FIRST-TIME USERS:  If you want to avoid confusion and frustration in using the GNDB, read the descriptions of the search options below. Once you understand these guidelines (it's easy!), you can go directly to the Search-Input Form.

This example shows the fifteen fields in the Lithuania record for the Hebrew name YEHUDA LEYB:

  Gender:               M
  Legal/Hebrew Name:    Yehuda haMechune Leyb\Leyba
  Origin:               Genesis 29:35
  Yiddish Names:        Ihuda/Yehida/Yehuda//Leb/Leyb
  Yiddish Nicknames:    Yidele/Yidl/Yodka/Yuda/Yude/Yudka/Yudl/Yudya/Yutka/Yutke//
  Origin:               Leb from Yiddish/German "lion"
  Secular Names:        Leo/Lyuba/Yulyus
  Secular Nicknames:

  US Names:             Isidore/Judah/Julius/Yidel//Leo/Leon/Leonard/Louis
  US Nicknames:         Sol
  UK Names:             Julius//Lewis/Louis
  UK Nicknames:
  South Africa:         Alfred/Israel/Judah/Julius/Levi/Louis//Leo/Leopold/Lewis
  SA Nicknames:         Udie

All records contain NAME-ONLY fields (e.g. "Yiddish Names") with all names delimited by the characters "/" and "//". There are also two types of TEXT fields: the "Legal/Hebrew Name" field and the "Origin" fields, both containing names delimited by the characters "\" or "/". The "Gender" field contains only an "M" or "F" -- no names. Thus, (1) you can search for a specific name inside NAME-ONLY and ALL-TEXT fields using a "Global TEXT Search", or (2) you can search for a specific name using "sounds-like" Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex. These two options also contain aids like logical "AND" and "OR", and the ability to specify beginning letters for a name (e.g., Yeh* would find Yehuda as well as Yehudis in Global Text Search).

Global Text Search of ALL Fields does exactly that -- it looks for an input search name as-is, wherever it appears, without regard to the delimiters, and it does this throughout the entire set of fields (name-only fields and text fields). You can search using the exact spelling of a name or the first few letters of the name.

Global Text Search (option one) allows the use of logical constructs AND/OR (DM Soundex does not). If you use "Alter OR Moshe" or "Moshe OR Alter" with option one in the Lithuania GNDB, then you will find seven results in both cases -- the two Alter's, the three Moshe's, and an additional two Moshe's found in text. The search engine seeks the two names wherever they may be in the record.

D-M Soundex (option two) searching can be very effective in finding names for which you do not know the exact spelling (for whatever reason). It will find all names which SOUND LIKE the name which you enter, because they all have the same DM-Soundex code. On the one hand, it helps overcome your lack of knowledge of the "correct" spelling of the name, or how it might be spelled in the data base using the GNDB standard. On the other hand, it may find lots of names in which you are not interested. DM Soundexing sometimes produces two different codes for one given name.

The only possible modification with DM Soundexing is the use of square brackets [ ]. For example, in the Lithuania GNDB, searching on "Moshe" will lead to 29 records retrieved, but using [Mo]she to search will yield only 16 records -- you are limiting the search to only those hits which begin with the exact letters "Mo", but which have the desired DM Soundex code for Moshe. You should experiment with this scheme and learn its advantages and limitations.


D-M Soundex does not search the Origins fields; if you wish to search these fields, use Global Text Search. D-M also does not highlight the search names which it finds -- Global Text Search DOES highlight the search names.


The two available search options then are:

1. Global TEXT Search of ALL Fields
2. Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex

Under option one, you can use an all-inclusive asterisk "*" to represent any letters of the alphabet. This very useful capability allows you to search exactly for the beginning of a name in cases where you are not sure how the whole name is spelled. The first few letters of a given name frequently are relatively unique to that name.

For example, consider the Yiddish name NOTL, as it is transcribed using the YIVO (Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut) standard, but which you think could be Notel or Nottel or Notell. If you try "Notel", "Nottel", or "Notell" using option one in the Lithuania GNDB, you will find no hits -- these spellings do not exist in the data base. But if you try "Not*" using option one, you will find six hits -- five for the Hebrew name Nasan (for which Notl is a kinui) and one for the Legal/Hebrew name Note (for which Notl is a kinui).

Another example: MOSHE. If you try "Moshe" as the search input using option one in the Lithuania GNDB, you will find five hits -- three for Moshe including its double names, and two for Moshe used in the "Origin" field where it is referred to in text. If you try "Mos*" using option one, you will find the same five hits. If you try "Mo*" using option one, you will find that the search engine will not accept your input, stating that you must use at least three characters in this way.

Using the search input "Yeh*" will yield results for both Yehuda and Yehudis. You should experiment with these variations to learn how they work best.


For the case where you know one or two Yiddish names (say) and want to find all the other Yiddish, Hebrew, and European secular names which were linked to your one or two, the best initial approach is probably to use option one with the first few letters of the name, along with the asterisk, e.g., "Not*". However, it might be worthwhile to back this up with a second trial in which your input is "[Not]l" using option two (DM Soundex). After trying the last one using the Lithuania GNDB, you might also have a go at the input "Notl" using option two (interesting?!)

The above procedure is probably the single most effective search technique for both European-to-foreign and foreign-to-European searches. In general, a combination of both search options works best and minimizes the possibility of missing names of which you should be aware. But remember that some trials may give you many false positives.

For the foreign-to-Europe case where you want to enter an English vernacular name (for US, UK, SA...), say Morris, option one would give twenty hits for the Lithuania GNDB. However, option two (Soundex) with input Morris would yield 29 hits -- it finds a number of names of females which have the same DM Soundex as Morris. For some English vernacular names, option two is NOT an effective choice because DM Soundex was not set up for English names and does not work as well with them. The use of the old NARA Soundex for English (and perhaps other foreign) names is currently under consideration.

Searches using foreign vernacular names are useful when you want to find all of the possible vernacular names an immigrant might have used, or when you are looking for all the Hebrew, Yiddish, and European secular names from which the vernacular name might have come -- but this could turn out to be a large number of possibilities, because our emigrating ancestors translated many different European Jewish names into the same foreign vernacular name.

Searching with foreign names is the second most popular use of the GNDBs. You undoubtedly will work out alternative approaches which will work for you and your own special needs.

For a detailed, field-by-field description of the fields' contents, see the Description of the Data Bases.


This search input form allows you to accomplish ONLY one of two different search directions (don't try to fill out both red and blue data):

1. European-to-Foreign: Enter your ancestor's given name for his European country of origin, and obtain all his possible European Legal/Hebrew, Yiddish, & Secular names, plus the foreign-country vernacular names he might have adopted.

2. Foreign-to-European: Enter your ancestor's vernacular given name for his foreign country of immigration, and obtain all the possible foreign-country vernacular given names he might have adopted, plus the European given names he might have had in his European country of origin.

Remember: don't choose a foreign country which has a "0" in the above project progress table -- no records have name entries for that field.


Try out these search options yourself until you feel confident that you can use them for your own searches, and then use them as guidelines for setting up your own searches.

  Global Text Search:            DM Soundex Search:

   Notl   Alter OR Moshe           Moshe
   Not*   Yehuda AND Leyb          [Mo]she
European Country:
Search Type:
Foreign Country:
Foreign Country:
Search Type:
European Country:
A list of the SOURCES used to obtain the given names data for the Galicia GNDB can be found here.


This web site includes several articles which you will want to read, in order to learn more about the GNDBs and how they were developed, and in order to broaden your background in the topic of Jewish given names, Judaism, and Jewish history. Come back to this section often.

      1.1. Project Goals
      1.2. Preparation of the Data Bases
      1.3. A Name-Acquisition Scenario
      2.1. Assumptions, Guidelines, and Constraints
      2.2. European Geographic Regions
      2.3. Criteria Used in Choosing Project Countries
      2.4. European and Foreign Country Population Data
      3.1. Definition of Data Base Fields
      3.2. Yiddish Given Names
      3.3. Legal/Hebrew Given Names
      3.4. Given Names Data Sources
      3.5. Computerized Given Names Sources
      3.6. Sample GNDB Search Results
      2.1. Factors which Define the Jewish People & Nation
      2.2. The Nature of Jewish Given Names
      2.3. Names of U.S. Immigrants, 1880-1920
      3.1. Ancient Period (3150 BCE - 500 CE)
      3.2. Middle Ages (500-1500 CE)
      3.3. Renaissance 1300-1700)
      3.4. Age of Enlightenment (1700-1900)
      3.5. Project Period (1795-1925)
      4.1. Beginnings and Growth
      4.2. A Cultural and International Language
      4.3. Yiddish Dialects
      4.4. YIVO Standard Yiddish
   5. JEWISH GIVEN NAMES, 1795-1925
      5.1. Hebrew Names
      5.2. Yiddish Names
      5.3. Jewish Secular Names

Go to Top of page

Return to Gesher Galicia Home Page
Return to JewishGen GNDBs Opening Page