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Dictionary of Bulgarian Jewish Surnames

The Jewish surnames found in the ex-Ottoman Empire, or more precisely in the Balkans, have not been the topic of any comprehensive published research. The three exceptions are: the booklet of Asher Moissis1 on the names of the Jews of Greece that is far from being complete and the Sephardic Onomasticon by Baruh Pinto2 on Turkish Jews in which the author tends too much to find a nonexistent Hebrew root. In 1967, Isaac Moskona3 published a long article in the Bulgarian Annual Publication of the Social Cultural and Educational Association of the Jews in the People's Republic of Bulgaria.

This was the first attempt to cover all the Jewish surnames of this community that numbered about 50,000 souls in 1939. Isaac Moskona compiled a list of 509 different surnames based on three sources dating from 1895 to 1967 and gave a meaning for less than half of them.

The present research covers 798 surnames. The additional ones were mainly found in the collective passports of Bulgarian Jews when they immigrated to Israel from October 1948 to June 1949. Microfilms of these passports are part of the collection of the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem.

Each wave of migration to Bulgaria brought its own group of surnames to the country although each one included Hebrew names.

  • The Romaniote Jews were first attested in Bulgaria in the 2nd century. They came from Eretz Israel after the destruction of the 2nd Temple. Their surnames are of Hebrew or Greek origin.
  • In 1376 Hungarian Jews were expelled from their country and some found refuge in Bulgaria. They had no surnames and on their arrival they were given nicknames, mostly in Turkish.
  • In 1394 Jews were expelled from France. They moved mainly to Germany and Spain but some reached Bulgaria via the Danube. Their surnames reflected the country or the locality from which they came.
  • King Ludwig X expelled the Bavarian Jews from his kingdom in 1470. Many of them settled in Bulgarian localities along the Danube and in Sofia, the capital. Many of them had no surname and got nicknames, most of them in Turkish
  • Following the generous offer made by the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II, Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 also reached Bulgaria. Apparently the Spanish Jews arrived in Bulgaria after 1494, settling in the trading towns in which Jews were already living. These immigrants quickly became the majority and the leaders of the whole Jewish community. This status was the basis for their great influence in the country and eventually the other Jewish communities accepted their spiritual and economic leadership. During the next 150-200 years, all the communities, even the descendants of the Hungarian and German Jews, merged into the Sephardic community and Ladino became the common language. The surnames of the Spanish Jews were of Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese origins.
  • Jews from Sicily, then part of the Aragon Kingdom, reached the territories of the Ottoman Empire as they were expelled soon after the Spanish Jews in 1493. Many of their surnames are Italian.
  • During the rule of Pope Pius V between 1566 and 1574, a new wave of immigrants, now mostly from Calabria, in Italy, reached Bulgaria with their Italian and Hebrew surnames.
  • As Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire during the years 1378-1878, the Turkish language had a great influence on the whole population and on the Jewish community in it. Even the Ladino spoken there has been enriched with common Turkish words. So it is no wonder that 9% of the surnames of Turkish origin were found among Bulgaria Jews..
  • Ashkenazi Jews arrived in the country at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th from the surrounding countries: Ukraine, Rumania and Russia. We will not speak of them as there are excellent sources4 for learning about them.
  • After the 500 year long Turkish occupation Bulgaria got its independence in 1878. A new era began: the Bulgarian language and culture became part of the everyday life and the Jews adopted it as their mother tongue. The ‘Bulgarization’ of the surnames began to occur when in schools, in the army and in other official governmental institutions the usual Bulgarian suffix ‘ov’ or ‘ev’ was formally introduced and stuck to names. The process became especially faster and easier after Jews were recruited in the army.

The Dictionary

  • The details given for each surname are as follows: (1) the surname, (2) all its variants, (3) the language it derives from, (4) its meaning, (5) a reference to its historical background in medieval Spain, when available. These references are all part of Spain databases found in https://www.sephardicgen.com/databases/databases.html
  • Unfortunately, eight surnames remained of unknown language and/or meaning.
  • Some rules of transliteration used in the dictionary:
    • The letter H which doesn’t exist in the Cyrillic alphabet is usually transliterated by Kh. Nevertheless efforts were made to preserve the traditional spellings of the names. Surnames that used to be written as Hasdai, Hassid, Hasson, Semah etc., and in which the H is a soft guttural letter, have been transliterated with an H. In the other surnames using the usual guttural.letters, Kh was used.
    • The Bulgarian letter Ш for the SH sound has been transliterated as such. French CH and German SCH have not been taken into account. Example: Aguadish
    • The Bulgarian letter ж for J sound has been transliterated as such. The French letter G has not been taken into account. Example: Adjiman
    • The Bulgarian letter K has been transliterated by a C in the cases of surnames originating in Latin languages such as Confino. For surnames originating in other languages such as Hebrew, Turkish etc. the letter K has been used as in Kalev or Kuyumdjiiski.

Bibliography
Arditti, BenjaminYehudei Bulgaria - Kehilat Shumla. Tel Aviv, 1969.(Hebrew) (Jews of Bulgaria ? [Shumla] Shumen community).
Bible.
BulgariaEncyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora, vol.X. Tel Aviv,1967. 1018p. 2° (Hebrew).
Covo, JosephToldot Yehudei Ruschuk. Tel Aviv, 2002. (Hebrew) [The History of the Jews of Ruschuk, Bulgaria] (Includes a list of surnames found in Ruschuk.)
Covo, JosephThe Shumen Jewish community. Jerusalem. Sharsheret HaDorot: Vol.16, No.4, 2000. (Includes List of surnames of Jewish burials).
Dalven, RachelThe Names of the Janina Jews. New York, The Sephardic Scholar, Series 3: 9-23, 1977-1978.
El KhayatLe livre des Prénoms du Monde Arabe. Casablanca, Eddif, 1999.(French)
Even ShoshanHamilon Hahadash; Musaf: yalkut shemot pratiim. Jerusalem, Kiriat Sefer, 1970.(Hebrew)[ The New Dictionary; Supplement: Compilation of Given Names)
France. La Poste. Code Postal. Paris, 1996. 771p.
Franco, MoiseOrigine des Noms des Israélites de Turquie. In: Histoire des Israélites de l?Empire Ottoman. Paris, Dularcher, 1899. p.284-285. (French)
Galante, AbrahamHistoire des Juifs de Turquie. Istanbul, 1940. 9v. (French)
Gruenwald, MordechaiAlgo di la istoriya di la comunidad israelita di Vidin. Sofia, 1894. (Judeo-Spanish ? Rashi letters). [On the history of the Jewish community of Vidin].
Hanks, Patrik & Flavia HodgesA dictionary of First Names. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994.
Herz, LaurentDictionnaire étymologique de noms de famille français d?origine étrangère et régionale. Paris, L?Harmattan, 1997. (French)
Kaganoff, Benzion CA Dictonary of Jewish Names & Their History. New York, Jason Aronson, 1996.
Keshales, HaimKorot yehudei bulgaria. Tel Aviv, Davar, 1969. 5v. (Hebrew) [The History of the Jews of Bulgaria]
Laredo, AbrahamLes noms des Juifs du Maroc. Madrid, Instituto Arias Montana, 1978. (French)
Levy, PaulLes noms des Israélites de France. Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1960. (French)
Loeb, IListe nominative des Juifs de Barcelone. Paris. Revue des Etudes Juives, 1882, 4:57-77. (French) [List of names of Barcelona Jews].
Matsas, JosephTa Onomata ton Evraion Sta Jannina. Athens, 1955. (Greek) [The names of the Jews in Ioannina]
Mezan, SaulLes Juifs espagnols en Bulgarie. Sofia, 1925. (French)
Moissis, AsherLes Noms des Juifs de Grèce. Gordes, France, 1990. (French)
Moskona, Isaac M. ?Za proizkhoda na familnite imena na belgarskite evrei?. Sofia. Obshtestvena kulturno prosvetna organizatsiya na evreite v narodna republika Bulgariya. Godishnik, 1, 1967. pp.111-137. (Bulgarian) [On the origin of the family names of the Bulgarian Jews. Educational and Cultural Organization of the Jews in the Popular Republic of Bulgaria , Annual no.1, 1967.]
Nehama, Joseph. L?histoire des Israélites de Salonique. Thessaloniki, 1930-1978. 7v. (French)
Pinto, BaruhThe Sephardic Onomasticon; An Ethymological Research on Sephardic Family Names of the Jews Living in Turkey. Istanbul, Gozlem, 2004.
Rosanes, ShlomoDivre yemei yisrael betogarma al pi mekorot rishonim. Tel Aviv, Dvir, 1930. 4v. (Hebrew) [History of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire according to primary sources]
Schaerf, SamueleI Cognomi degli Ebrei d?Italia. Firenze, Casa Editrice ?Israel?, 1925. (Italian) [The Names of the Jews of Italy].
Sebag, PaulLes noms des Juifs de Tunisie. Paris, L?Harmattan, 2002. (French)
Sefarad, A bi-annual review published by the Arias Montano Institute in Madrid from 1941 to 2007.
Sror, S. Les noms des Juifs du Comtat du 16e au 18e siècle. Revue des Etudes Juives, 1997, 156:305-372. [Names of the Jews in the Comtat from the 16th to the 18th cent.].
Steinschneider, M. An introduction to the Arabic literature of Jews; Chap. 14: Family names. Philadelphia. Jewish Quarterly Review, 1898, 10: 119-138, 513-540 + 1899, 11: 115-149, 305-343, 480-489, 585-625.
Tadjer, AbrahamNotas istorikas sovre los djudios de Bulgaria i la komunita de Sofia. Sofia, Nadejda 1930. (Judeo-Spanish- Rashi script) [Historical Notes on the Jews of Bulgaria and the Community of Sofia]
Tagger, Mathilde. The Jews of Bulgaria ? Their Surnames as a Miror of their History in: Demsky editor, Pleasant are Their Names - Jewish Names in the Sephardi Diaspora. Bethesda, Md, University of Marylan. ( in print [2010]).
Tagger, MathildeJewish Bulgarian Casualties in WW 1 and Balkans Wars https://www.sephardicgen.com/databases/BulgariaCasualtiesSrchFrm.html
Tagger, MathildeList of Jews Born in Bulgaria Deported from France 1942-1944. https://www.sephardicgen.com/databases/BulgariaDeporteesSrchFrm.html
Tamir, VickyBulgaria her Jews; the History of a Dubious Symbiosis. New York, Hermon for Yeshiva University Press, 1979.
Tidjani, DinaDictionnaire des Prénoms Arabes. Rabat, 1997. (French)
Toledano, JosephUne histoire de familles; Les noms Juifs d?Afrique du Nord. Jerusalem, 1999. (French)
Vroonen, EugeneLes noms de personnes en Orient et spécialement en Egypte. Le Caire, Le Scribe Egyptien, 1946. (French)
Zaimov, YordanBulgarski Imennik. Sofia, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, 1994. (Bulgarian) [Dictionary of Bulgarian (given) names]

1 For details see the bibliography
2 Idem
3 Idem
4 See the three dictionaries of Alexander Beider published by Avotaynu

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the tremendous contributions and lifelong dedication of Mathilde Tagger, z"l who made this index available. For many years, and right until her untimely death, Mathilde Tagger was a very close friend and collaborator with Jeff Malka. Together they worked to promote Sephardic genealogy research and educate the public about its enormous potential.

In addition, we express our grateful appreciation to Dr. Jeff Malka for his monumental ongoing effort to collect and make accessible Sephardic genealogical information, and for his generosity in contributing his extraordinarily valuable collection to JewishGen.


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