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.
Petah Tikva, Israel
Rabbinical surnames derived from place names
- Auerbach (Averbakh, Averbukh)
- Bach(a)rach (Bakhrakh)
- Bloch (Blokh)
- Broda (Brojdo, Brojde, Braude)
- Epstein (Epshtejn)
- Fraenkel (Frenkel)
- Guenzburg (Ginsburg, Gintsburg)
- Halberstadt (Gal'berstadt)
- Heilprin or Heilpern (Gal'pern, Gal'perin)
- Horowitz (Gurevich, Gurvich, Gorovits)
- Katzenellenbogen (Katsenelenbogen)
- Landau (Landa)
- Lipschuetz (Livshits, Lifshits, Lipshits)
- Luria (Lur'e)
- Mintz (Mints)
- Spira (Shapiro, Shapira)
- Treves (Trivush)
Rabbinical surnames based on the Hebrew lexicon
- Heifetz (Khejfets)
- Jaffe (Ioffe)
- Margolioth (Margolis, Margulis)
- Teomin (Teumin)
Time periods for adopting surnames
|In the 14th
In the 16th century:
|In the 15th
In the 17th century:
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.
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.
1. The first section is
excerpted from: Freedman,
Chaim. Beit Rabbanan: Sources of Rabbinic Genealogy.
Petah Tikva, Israel: self-published, 2001. Used with
2. Menton, Arthur F. The Book of Destiny, Toledot Charlap.
1996, King David Press, Cold Spring Harbor, New York, USA. (return)