As a substitute for the long-promised FAQ on names and as a supplement to the section "Names" in the general JewishGen FAQ by Warren Blatt, here are some of my earlier JewishGen messages on the subject. I hope that I will be able to write a proper FAQ.
The messages appear in chronological order. I have numbered them and have compiled a short index with links to the messages which deal with a particular issue. If your browser does not jump to the correct section, move the cursor past the index and then search for the section number (with the # sign).
Except for occasional cuts, I have not edited the messages. In particular, I have not tried to remove repetitions and redundancies. Most of the messages are replies to other postings and contain quotes from them. For practical reasons, I have not deleted the names of the authors, but I want to emphasize that my criticisms should in no way be taken as personal attacks.
Please note that the material in this file is copyright (and not ready for publication) and may therefore not be reproduced in any form without my permission.
(d) Animal names as family names (Dan Leeson, 30 Jan 1994 09:23:55 -0800) DL> Henno Zelis of the Netherlands reminds us that [... in 1811] DL> some Jews did take animal names. DL> This was also true in Germany (or at least in Baden) as name DL> changes became obligatory there. Such common Jewish names DL> include "bear," "eagle" (Adler), "wolf," etc. There are two major sources for such names, and there is nothing derogatory about them (cf. Gerhard Kessler, Die Familiennamen der Juden in Deutschland, Leipzig 1935; Benzion C. Kaganoff, A Dictionary of Jewish Names and their History, New York 1977): (1) Certain animals are traditionally associated with common Hebrew first names. (In part, these associations are based on Jacob's blessings for his sons, Bereshit 49.) The German words for these animals were used as secular first names (Hebrew "kinnui") and often became family names, e.g. Judah - Loew, Loeb, etc; Spanish Leon 'lion' Issachar - Baer, Beer, Berl, Perl, etc. 'bear' Naphtali - Hirsch, Herz(l), etc.; Slavic Jellin(ek) 'deer' Asher - Lamm, etc. 'lamb' Ephraim - Fisch(el), etc. 'fish' Joseph - Stier; Ochs 'bull; ox' Benjamin - Wolf, Wulf, etc.; Spanish Lopez 'wolf' Joshua - Falk, Falik, etc. 'falcon' Jona - Taube, Teuber, etc. 'dove' (2) In some old cities, notably Frankfurt/Main and Prague, houses were identified by signs which often depicted animals; the inhabitants later adopted these house names as family names (Rothschild 'red sign, shield' being the most famous). Examples: Adler 'eagle' Gans, Ganz 'goose' Hahn 'cock' Hecht 'pike' Lamm 'lamb' Rindskopf 'cow-head' Several of the "kinnui" names in (1) are also attested as house names, e.g. Falk, Lamm, Ochs. Fuchs 'fox' may be based either on a house name or on a nickname for red-haired (or perhaps sly) people; Kaganoff also mentions that "rabbis in Poland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries wore a special garb with a fox-lined outer garment, and when names were given out this may have influenced the selection" (p. 153). DL> For those unable to purchase a fancy name (such as "Diamond" or DL> "Rosenberg" or "Rosenbloom"), the naming authorities might play DL> an awful trick by giving these people names such as gallows-rope DL> (Galgenstrich) or donkey-head (Eselkopf). This is something that seems to have happened in Galicia - but in liberal Baden?? (Kaganoff, p. 23, fails to differentiate here.) BTW, the correct spellings are "Galgenstrick" (with final k) and "Eselskopf". The latter might also be a house name (cf. "Rindskopf" above). The supposedly fancy name "Diamant" may have been given to someone involved in the diamond trade, and many of the family names with "Rosen-" could be derived from (or patterned on) place names; Rosenberg, Rosenfeld, Rosengarten, Rosent(h)al and others are quite common in German-speaking areas. Another source of the Jewish family names with "Rosen-" might be the female name "Rose" (the mother's name, presumably) to which something was added; the frequent occurrence of "Blum(en)-", "Gold(e)-" etc. may be explained similarly. Moreover, such names were common in non- Jewish circles, too (just remember Rosencrantz and Guildenstern). In other words, many Jewish family names can have a variety of origins so that we must be careful with generalizations.
There are quite a few books on Jewish family names; apart from Beider, Alexander: A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire. Teaneck/NJ: Avotaynu 1993 there is a new dictionary I haven't seen yet (any opinions on it?): Guggenheimer, Heinrich W. & Eva: Jewish Family Names and their Origins: An Etymological Dictionary. Hoboken/NJ: Ktav 1992. Much less expensive is: Kaganoff, Benzion C.: A Dictionary of Jewish Names and their History. New York: Schocken 1977 (ISBN 0-8052-0643-4 pb) In 1992, CCAR Press, Dept. 3, 192 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10016, Tel. (212) 684-4990, sold it at $2.95 (yes, two dollars and ninety-five cents) +15% s&h! (Prepayment by Visa, MasterCard, check or money order required. I don't know whether the offer is still valid; if it is, JGSs should consider bulk orders - s&h was free on orders over $50.) A comprehensive list of older books and articles can be found in: Singerman, Robert: Jewish and Hebrew Onomastics: A Bibliography. New York: Garland 1977
[Quoting David Chapin, message of 1 Feb 94 13:55:54 CST:] DC> A superb book about the subject is Rabbi Gorr's book on names. I can't DC> recall the title, but it was published in 1993 by AVOTAYNU. He discusses DC> the tribal linkage between the names and the reasons behind them, etc. The reference is: Gorr, R. Shmuel: Jewish Personal Names: Their Origin, Derivation and Diminutive Forms. Teaneck/NJ: Avotaynu 1992, xv+112 pp. The title is somewhat misleading: R. Gorr z"l lists first names (with lots of variants), but mentions family names only when they are derived from first names. R. Gorr creates the impression of being knowledgeable in matters of linguistics and phonetics, but unfortunately he is not. On p. xi, he gives a phonetic classification of consonants which is highly unsatisfactory - worst of all, he fails to distinguish between sounds and letters (a "capital crime" in the eyes of any linguist). The same applies to various other statements, e.g. "as there is no aspirant H in the Russian alphabet, the nearest is the G" (p. 38); cf. my "Re: Novogrudok (& Slavic Linguistics)" of 30 Jan 1994. His classification of names as "Teutonic", "German", "Old High German", "Yiddish" etc. is also somewhat strange, and so are many of his remarks on sound changes. R. Gorr doesn't give exact references (e.g. "there are some who claim ...", p. 63) nor does he adduce proofs for his etymologies, even where he disagrees with the widely accepted ones (e.g. for "Frumet"). His own derivations are not always correct either. To mention just one example I happened to notice, he says about the name "Bodhana" or "Bodana" (p. 56f): "The _Bod_ part of the name means _God_ in Ukrainian. The _Hana_ part is our well-known Hebrew _Hannah_ ...". One can easily check in a dictionary that the Ukrainian word is not _bod_ but _boh_ (Russian _bog_), and I should be very surprised if the name isn't simply the female variant of Ukrainian "Bohdan" (Russian "Bogdan"), in which the second part _dan_ means 'given'. "Bogdan" is an old Slavic name, modeled on a Greek one; in Hebrew, "Nathan" expresses a similar idea. The book may be quite useful for some purposes, but regrettably it is far from "superb". Of course, R. Gorr was an amateur and not a trained linguist, and so were most of the people who compiled dictionaries of Jewish names. The books which I mentioned as "recommended reading" are not necessarily more reliable!
TO: Arline Parnes RE: Msg of Thu, 19 May 1994 10:20:33 -0500 in JEWISHGEN > What is the BEST book to buy for meanings of personal names (a dictionary). > I have Rabbi Gorr's book for the Jewish personal names. Arline, you presumably mean a book about the etymology (origin) of names; names don't have a "meaning" in the true sense. I guess you're looking for something about English first names since you seem satisfied with R. Gorr for the Jewish ones. The standard source is: E. G. Withycombe: The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press (3rd ed. 1979) A book which lists lots and lots of first names - including Biblical and modern (Israeli) Jewish names - and gives very brief etymologies is: Alfred J. Kolatch, The Complete Dictionary of English and Hebrew First Names, Middle Village NY: Jonathan David 1984 (488 pages) (You can order straight from the publishers Jonathan David Publishers Inc. 68-22 Eliot Avenue Middle Village, NY 11379 Phone (718) 456-8611 Fax (718) 894-2818 Ask for their "Judaica Book Guide", which includes many special offers - if you're lucky, you can get the name dictionary at less than the regular price, which is $25.) As I pointed out in an earlier message, R. Gorr's book should be used with caution. What I like is that it lists many variants and diminutive forms of names, but the remarks about etymology and sound change are not based on an adequate knowledge of linguistics and phonetics. It's impossible to say which dictionary is the "best" - it all depends on what you need it for. Each book has specific advantages and short- comings, and NO dictionary is entirely reliable. This is especially true of etymology. In this field, even professional lexicographers sometimes make grotesque mistakes, as I showed a number of years ago in a detailed review of a new German dictionary (a general one, not one of names) - and most name dictionaries are compiled by amateurs ...
IN REPLY TO: Msg from Dan Leeson of Sun, 29 May 1994 05:57:50 -0700 ORIGINAL SUBJECT: Bob Wine's question about "Diamond" DL> The name only leads me to believe that one of your ancestors came from DL> Germany where, in the mid-1800s, mandatory name changes were instituted by DL> the government. Prior to that time, people were permitted to use last DL> names, but after that date, they were required to do so, both Jews and DL> non-Jews alike. As far as I know, the governments in the various German states (which at that time were entirely independent) did not require people to *change* their names. What is true is that family names became obligatory - those people who already had a surname registered it and those who didn't took one. Family names became obligatory first in Austria (1787), then in Frankfurt/ Main (1807), French-occupied Rhineland and Westphalia (1808), Baden (1809), Prussia (1812), Bavaria (1813) and other states. Prussian-occupied Posen (1833) and Saxonia (1834) were among the last, so that "in the mid-1800s" is not quite correct except for Oldenburg (1852). DL> Obviously, one wanted a last name that was not a public disgrace. If DL> you were unable to purchase a beautiful sounding name, the authorities DL> might (and occasionally did) give someone a name like "Galgenstrick" DL> which means "gallows rope" or "Eselkopf" which means "Donkey's Head." We've been through that before, but since this seems to be a widespread rumour, I have to repeat what I said in my message "Names, Names, Names ..." of 31 January (Digest 136) - sorry, Dan. While it is true that a few disgraceful names (not all that many, as far as I know) are attested in Galicia, which was part of Austria-Hungary, they were never imposed by the authorities in Germany. There, Jews and non-Jews chose their own names, although in some (not all) states certain names were inadmissible. In the West and North-West, which was under French rule in the early 1800s, names of cities and Biblical first names were not allowed as *new* Jewish family names; restrictions of a similar kind, which did not affect names that had been in use before, existed in Baden and in Austria. In keeping with the spirit of the times, which linked emancipation (equal rights for Jews and non-Jews) to assimilation, the purpose of such regulations was to *avoid* conspicous differences between the names of Jews and non-Jews. Moreover, names which may sound derogatory to us need not be derogatory in origin. Thus, as I said before, "Eselskopf" (with should have an _s_ in the middle) could well be a name based on a house sign (see below) - like "Rindskopf" ('cow's head'), which is attested in Frankfurt/Main. Family names which look derogatory also occur among non-Jewish Germans, and some of them have been in use for a long time so that they certainly can't be blamed on officials who didn't get a sufficiently bribe. Obviously, the etymology of each name must be examined very carefully. DL> The names thought to be most beautiful by many people were names of DL> jewels, such as diamond. And thus "Diamant" (English: Diamond) became DL> a popular name among Jews. As I said before, the name "Diamant" was not chosen for its supposed beauty but indicates that the bearer was in the diamond trade. "Wein" ('wine') can also be a name of this type. DL> Other popular names that were purchased (I presume from an approved DL> list) were "Rosenberg" (meaning rose mountain), "Goldberg" (or gold DL> mountain). These names (which Jews in Germany certainly didn't have to purchase) can derive from a variety of sources, including place names and female first names - for details see my earlier message. DL> Some people chose names [...] after the sign that was hung in front DL> of their place of business (Rothschild = red shield). A minor correction: These names are derived from signs on houses, which served the function of our house numbers. In Prague, for instance, one can still see lots of houses with stucco signs above the door showing a sun, an animal, a flower or the like. DL> Certain names are inherently Jewish, such as Cohen and Levy In Germany, even the names "Kohn" and "Lewin" can have a non-Jewish origin, as can "typically Jewish" names like "Salomon", "Wolf", "Gold- bach", "Landauer" etc. etc. In other words, it is *never* permissible to assume that a family is (or was) Jewish merely because of its name.
In a message of Fri, 12 Aug 94 17:21:21 +0200, Michel R. Futtersack wrote (Subject: Are some hungarian Jewish surnames nicknames?): > Someone told me that Austrian administration gave frequently sobriquets > (nicknames) to Jews in the 18th century. Do anyone have information about > this memorable usage ? This story is frequently repeated but has never been proved. In Austria, family names became obligatory in 1787, in Prussia in 1812; most other German states followed suit in the course of the first half of the 19th century. According to all the laws and regulations, Jews who already had a family name were allowed to keep it (they merely had to register it) and those who didn't have one had to *choose* one. In many states, these *new* family names could be chosen freely. In others, certain types of names were not allowed (but *old* family names were not affected by these restrictions). This usually applied to names from the Hebrew Bible and names based on place names, which shows that the purpose of such measures was to prevent Jews from taking *new* names that were "typically Jewish". In other words, the authorities wanted to reduce the differences between Jews and Gentiles to a minimum, making assimilation a prerequisite for "emancipation", i.e. equal rights. Note that in Prussia and elsewhere, Jews were given citizenhip *on condition* that they take a permanent family name. In Western Galicia, that part of Poland which was under Austrian rule from 1795 to 1815 (when it became part of the new Kingdom of Poland under Russian sovereignty), family names became obligatory in 1805. The wording of the regulations differed from those for Austria proper: In Austria, Jews had to "take" a family name, in Western Galicia they "received" one. It is possible (but by no means certain) that some officials in this region (but not anywhere else) imposed unpleasant names unless they received a bribe (cf. Dietz Bering, Der Name als Stigma 1987, Ch. 2.2, note 45). The ultimate source of all the stories that Jews had to "buy" names is an essay by the writer Karl Emil Franzos, "Namensstudien" (1880), in which he lists ugly and derogatory family names from Galicia. His claim that these names were assigned by a military commission has been refuted by Erwin Manuel Dreifuss in his book Die Familiennamen der Juden (1927, p. 16ff); other authors (e.g. Gerhard Kessler in Die Familiennamen der Juden in Deutschland 1935, p. 80) have pointed out that seemingly ugly names also occur among Gentiles and often aren't derogatory in origin - and some of the "disgusting" Galician names ("Ekelnamen") which Kessler found in the Berlin address book of 1926 don't strike me as "disgusting" at all. In fact, one of the names he assigns to this category, SONNENBLICK (lit. 'sun view'), occurs again under the "phantasy names" with positive connotations, and I also don't understand why MUSKATBLITT (lit. 'nutmeg flower', i.e. the spice mace) should be "disgusting" if MUSKAT is listed under the names derived from merchandise. Obviously, the number of "ugly" names among Jews has been vastly exaggerated - they occur more frequently in jokes and antisemitic remarks than in reality.
[Quoting Judith Mostyn, "Bavarian Census of Jews", 15 Aug 94 17:05:38 EDT:] > The entry for my ancestor in the 1826 Bavarian Census of Jews, > contains the following [...]: > > col 4: Befchneidungs und bisheriger Name [Circumcision and former Name]: > Isaac Laemmlein Marx [...] > col 5: Jekiger bleibender Familien Name [Present permanent Family Name]: > Heidenheimer [...] This should be *Beschneidungs-* and *jetziger*. What Judith mistook for an _f_ is a "long" _s_ (which lacks the cross-bar of an _f_). > QUESTIONS: Does this mean his family name was originally MARX and he > changed it to HEIDENHEIMER? In Bavaria (as in other German states), Jews had to take family names sometime in the early 1800s; as I said in my recent message "'Ridiculous' family names", this often was a prerequisite for citizenship. Subsequently, census lists with the new family names were compiled. When family names became obligatory, those Jews who already had a hereditary family name usually kept it, but some used the opportunity to adopt a new name. In Berlin, 458 of 1633 families that had to choose a family name in 1812 already had one (28%); this percentage is higher than average because the Jews in Berlin were more assimilated than those in the country. Of these 458, 63 (14%) decided to change the name - some perhaps because many other families had the same name, others because they wanted to avoid a name that sounded "too Jewish"; there were all sorts of reasons. (The figures are from: Dietz Bering, Der Name als Stigma, Stuttgart 1992, pp. 55/58; Bering's statements are a bit unclear and I hope I have interpreted them correctly.) Jews who didn't have a family name were known by their individual name ("first name") and by their father's name; some also had an additional epithet which was not passed on to the next generation (e.g. 'David the red-haired', 'Moshe the teacher', 'Shmuel from Heidenheim' in contradistinction to other Davids, Moshes, Shmuels). What may be confusing is that the father's name is not identified as such: Nathan's son Isaac was known simply as "Isaac Nathan" - no "ben", no "-sohn" etc. In many cases, the father's name was chosen as a family name. Here's an example from my own family: My 5g-gf Jekutiel ben Chaim was called "Kauffmann Heimann" in German records. Both of these names are individual names ("first names"): "Kauffmann" is his own (a *kinnui* or secular equivalent of his Hebrew name "Jekutiel") and "Heimann" is his father's (a *kinnui* of "Chaim"). Sometimes he was also called "Kauffmann Praeger", where "Praeger" is an epithet meaning 'the one from Prague'. Jekutiel's son Schalom was known as "Salomon Kauffmann". Originally, "Kauffmann" was simply the individual name of his father, but in 1812 Schalom/Salomon chose it as the family name: His son Meir was not called "Meyer Salomon" (individual name + father's name) but "Meyer Kauffmann" (individual name + family name). So, if a person has two names in older records, the second can be: (1) a family name ("Kauffmann" in "Meyer Kauffmann"), (2) the father's name ("Kauffmann" in "Salomon Kauffmann" before 1812), (3) an epithet ("Praeger" in "Kauffmann Praeger"). Since practically all individual names and epithets can become family names, one can't determine which type of name it is without looking at the sequence of generations. If a person has three names, there are even more possibilities. Here's another example from my family: My 3g-gf Joseph Lippmann Mugdan had a brother Samuel Herrmann Mugdan and a son Elieser Lippmann Mugdan. In all cases, "Mugdan" is the family name, but the role of the "middle name" differs: (1) In "Joseph Lippmann", "Lippmann" is the name of Joseph's father. (2) In "Elieser Lippmann", "Lippmann" is the *kinnui* of "Elieser", i.e. the two names are equivalent. (An interesting piece of evidence are the gravestones of two of Elieser Lippmann's sons: one says "ben Lippmann", the other "ben Elieser".) Such combinations were quite popular (cf. "Menachem Mendel", "Dov Ber", "Zvi Hirsch" etc.). (3) In "Samuel Herrmann", "Herrmann" is a second individual name. This is clear from the gravestone, which gives "Shmuel Chaim" as the Hebrew name. ("Hermann" is another, more modern *kinnui* of "Chaim".) Again, additional evidence is needed to decide which type of name it is. Now, what about "Isaac Laemmlein Marx"? "Laemmlein" is a diminutive of the German word "Lamm" ('lamb'); it can be a *kinnui* of "Asher" (for unknown reasons). "Marx" is a Germanized form of "Mordechai" (and so are "Mark", "Markus", "Marcuse" etc.) and could be either the father's name or a family name. > Is Loew a name? Woman's or Man's name? First name or family name? "Loew" (from the German word for 'lion') is a *kinnui* of "Yehuda" (based on Bereshit 49:9), i.e. a man's name. It is often used in combination with "Yehuda" (cf. R' Yehuda Loew ben Betzalel, the Maharal of Prague, who is said to have created the Golem) and, like most individual names ("first names"), also became a family name.
> Date: Wed, 09 Nov 1994 19:37:44 EST > First, I understand a kinnui to apply to a secular first name, and I > believe that this is consistent with your understanding. Yes. In the most typical case, a kinnui is a secular "equivalent" of someone's Jewish (Hebrew, more rarely Aramaic or Greek) given name. The kinnui can be a name in the vernacular language (German, Yiddish, Polish, Russian or whatever), but often it only sounds like a name in the vernacular language without being used as such by non-Jews. Thus, _Koppelmann_ *sounds* German but doesn't occur as a Gentile name. The relationship between a name and its kinnui can be of various kinds: (1) The words underlying the name and its kinnui have similar meanings. Examples: _Flora_ for _Blume_ (diminutive _Bluemchen_ or _Bluemel_, 'flower'); with the added element -mann: _Lichtmann_ for _Me'ir_. (2) The name and its kinnui sound similar. Examples: _Meyer_ (an exclusively Jewish given name) for _Me'ir_, _Moritz_ (a name also used by Gentiles) for _Moshe_; with the added elements -el and/or -mann: _Koppel_ or _Koppelmann_ for _Ya'akov_. (3) The kinnui alludes to a characteristic of the Biblical figure who was the first bearer of the name. I listed some examples in a message on JEWISHGEN of 31 Jan: > Certain animals are traditionally associated with common > Hebrew first names. (In part, these associations are based > on Jacob's blessings for his sons, Bereshit 49.) The German > words for these animals were used as secular first names > (Hebrew "kinnui") and often became family names, e.g. > Judah - Loew, Loeb, etc; Spanish Leon 'lion' [rest of quote deleted - see message 01] > A corrupted or diminutive form of the Hebrew or Yiddish first name > would do for a surname; i.e., Baruch Bendit, or Jacob Koppelman. _Bendit_ is a translation equivalent of _Baruch_ ('the blessed one'), not a "corrupted" form (an expression I would avoid anyway). It was common to use the Jewish name and the kinnui in combination; in this case, _Bendit_ wasn't a surname (in the sense of 'family name') but simply a second given name. > Now in none of this can I come out with Mordechai as a kinnui for > Marx. And that is the source of my confusion. All of the sources > I have looked at suggest that Marx has a Roman origin. Of course, _Marcus_ is a Latin name. But just as Latin _Benedict_ (French _Bendit_) can be a kinnui of _Baruch_, _Marcus_ or the shortened variant _Marx_ can be a kinnui (of type 2) for _Mordechai_ (not the other way round). In his book "Die Familiennamen der Juden in Deutschland", Gerhard Kessler lists the following German-sounding equivalents of _Mordechai_: Mark, Markus, Markuse, Markusy, Markmann, Marx In his "Dictionary of Jewish Names", Kaganoff says under MARKS: Jews with a Hebrew name of Moshe or Mordechai often selected Marcus or Mark as the non-Hebrew name. I'm sure that the Guggenheimers say the same thing (I was able to get their dictionary of Jewish family names by inter-library loan but had to return it; it's a very valuable source for kinnuim.) There is also documentary of this kinnui-equivalence, for example in Jacob Jacobson's index of Jewish marriages in Berlin (Juedische Trauungen in Berlin 1759-1813, Berlin: de Gruyter 1968). There, _Marcus_ occurs very frequently as a kinnui of _Mordechai_, and one Mordechai ben Zwi Mirels who died in 1654 in Vienna was also known as *Marx* Fraenkel.
In a message of Mon, 30 Jan 1995 17:06:01 LOCAL, Mimi Hiller <HILLER@smartdocs.com> wrote "Re: Jews took names": MH> I believe it was around 1804 in Russia as part of the ukases (edicts) MH> concentrating on the cultural suffocation of the country's Jews. And in a message of Tue, 31 Jan 1995, Walter Ratajczyk wrote on the same topic, relying on Norman Davies in God's Playground: A History of Poland. Volume II: 1795 To The Present: WR> With the fall of Poland Prussia, Austria and Russia eliminated WR> jurisdiction of kahal and in order to exercise better control over Jews WR> began their registration. In Austria and Russia it started in 1791 WR> in Prussia it was conducted on the basis of Judenregelment 1797. WR> In Austria and Prussia bureaucrats were giving names to Jews at their WR> discretion, [...] Here we go again ;-) (1) Purpose of family names At least in the various German states (including Austria), the requirement for Jews to adopt hereditary family names didn't serve the purpose of "cultural suffocation" or of "better control", and the same is probably true of other European countries. In the late 18th / early 19th c., the ideals of freedom and equality led to a new attitude towards the Jews: They were no longer regarded as strangers living in their own segregated world, the ghetto, but as citizens with (more or less) the same rights as non-Jews. One prerequisite for citizenship ("naturalization", "emancipation") was the adoption of a family name. The non-Jews already had family names (in most of Europe, these developed in the course of the 11th-16th c.), and to include the Jews in the name system of the majority was a way of symbolizing their new status in society (cf. Dietz Bering, The Stigma of Names, Ch. 2.1). (2) Were family names given or taken? As I have already pointed out in several earlier messages, the claim that in Prussia and Austria "bureaucrats were giving names to Jews at their discretion" is false, no matter how often it may have been repeated. In all of the German states, the laws and regulations allowed the Jews to choose their own family names. (If they already had a family name, some states required them to keep it, others permitted them to change it if desired.) This was also true of the formerly Polish areas under Prussian and Austrian rule - with a single exception. It concerns Western Galicia, a part of Poland that came under Austrian rule in 1795. There, the Jews were to "receive" family names, but it is far from clear how this actually took place (cf. Dietz Bering, The Stigma of Names, Ch. 2.2, fn. 45). (3) When did family names become obligatory? The dates Walter gives for the former Polish areas could be a little misleading. Eastern Galicia (Austrian since 1772) was included in the "patent" of 1787 for the whole of Austria; the patent for Western Galicia (see above) dates from 1805. The Prussian legislation of 1812 may have included West Prussia (with Bromberg/Bydgoszcz, Polish until 1772) - but I'm not sure about that -, whereas the "Generaljudenreglement" of 1797 concerned New West Prussia (with Warsaw, Polish until 1793) and South Prussia (with Posen/Poznan, Polish until 1795). In most of these areas, Prussian and Austrian rule didn't last long: With the establishment of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw in 1807, which became the Kingdom of Poland (under Russian sovereignty) in 1815, Prussia had to give up New West Prussia and most of South Prussia; Austria lost Western Galicia. In the part of South Prussia that remained Prussian, namely Posen, Jews had to take family names in 1833 (cf. my message "Re: Jews in Posen" of 31 Jan). This suggests that they hadn't done so after the "Generaljudenreglement" of 1797. Similarly, the fact that the Russian *ukaz* of 1804 was followed by a second one in 1835 indicates "that the law of 1804 had not been followed rigorously and that numerous Jews either had adopted no surnames or had changed them once adopted" (Alexander Beider, A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire, Teaneck/NJ: Avotaynu: 1993, p. 10; cf. David Chapin's message of 31 Jan). It would be surprising if the Austrians had been more effective during their brief occupation of Western Galicia, so that we should be even more wary of the bobbe mayses about officials giving Jews "ugly" names or asking high prices for "nice" ones.
In a message of Sat, 13 May 1995 11:56:23 GMT, David Wihl wrote (Subject: Re: Tribal Membership--Cohen/Levi/Israelite), quoting email@example.com: DW> H> I am aware of men who took their wife's family name because hers DW> H> was the more "prominent" family. The name change is said to be DW> H> identified by the addition of an "s" (feminine ending). DW> BTW, this comes from Greek, where male names have an "s" appended to DW> the end. That is how English gets Moses out of Moshe Rabbaenu. Sorry, folks, but you seem to be confusing a number of different things. (1) It is true that many Greek male names end in -s, and that this accounts for _Moses_ as the Greek (and hence Latin, English, German etc.) equivalent of _Moshe_. (BTW, the example also illustrates that the Greeks regularly replaced Hebrew _sh_ by _s_.) But this Greek -s has nothing to do with the supposed "feminine ending" Howard was talking about. (2) In the Germanic languages (English, German, Yiddish, Swedish etc.), many family names are derived from given names by the addition of an -s, e.g. English Peters or Judeo-German/Yiddish Sanders (from Sander, a short form of Alexander). This -s is not a "feminine ending" but rather a possessive or genitive suffix. In such names, it is equivalent to the more complete construction "X's son", which has given rise to innumerable family names, such as English Johnson or Judeo-German/ Yiddish Lewinson (from Lewin, a variant of Leib, the kinnui of Yehuda). (3) In families in which continuity in the male line is highly valued (this includes rabbinical dynasties as well as - lehavdil - non-Jewish farmers in northern Germany, for instance), a son-in-law often takes on the role of a son. To emphasize that he is the legitimate successor, he may adopt the family name of his wife (or rather, his father-in-law). AFAIK, the name is not modified when this happens.
In a message of Mon, 28 Aug 1995 09:45:08 -0400, EDWARD L CHUMNEY <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote EC> The answer that I got from several people was: Isaacs means "Son of EC> Isaac" and is a Jewish name. I have looked at books like "Finding our EC> Fathers" which shows that Isaacs is definately a Jewish name. He added a message from the UK/Ireland Genealogy list. There, someone else had asked whether the name ISAAC/ISAACS was > a. Welsh > b. Cornish > c. Norman > d. Jewish > e. all of the above and got the reply: > The answer is E. > The name is a patronomic [sp!, should be "patronymic", Joachim] and any > place that adopted patronomic surnames, and used the name Isaac as a > first name, could have this as a surname. It implies no particular > ethnicity, as at various times this name [is] used [in] Wales, Cornwall, > and England, all of which had their own patronomic tradition [...] Edward wanted an opinion on this, and since similar questions come up quite frequently, I'd like to reply publicly: The answer *is* E. With very few exceptions, there are no family names that are "definitely Jewish" in the sense that the original bearer must have been Jewish. This applies to names with all sorts of origins: - Patronymics derived from Hebrew given names (Abraham, Isaacs etc.), - place names with the suffix -er (Hamburger, Wiener etc.), - animal names (Hirsch, Baer etc.), - professions and titles (Richter, Herzog etc.), - artificial names that resemble place names (Rosenthal, Goldberg etc.). Lots of supposedly "typically Jewish" names are attested in purely Gentile families, and even the names KOHN and LEWIN can have totally non-Jewish origins (from the Germanic given names Kuno and Liebwein, respectively). Since all ethnic groups in Europe use essentially the same types of family names, this should not come as a surprise. In other words, you *cannot* conclude from a family name alone whether the family is/was Jewish or not. Generally, the origin of a family name doesn't tell you much about the origin of the family. For example, the name HAMBURGER suggests some connection with the city of Hamburg. It need not necessarily imply that the person who adopted the name actually used to live there. And if he did, it wouldn't help you much in tracing his ancestors - because he would normally not be known as HAMBURGER until after leaving Hamburg. So, please don't attach so much importance to names and focus on the real evidence, i.e. family traditions, documents etc.