Scandinavia Special Interest Group (SIG)

Jewish Names and Naming Traditions in Denmark

In 1828 and again in 1856 the Danish government passed a "Naming Law" according to which everyone was to take on permanent family names -- just like it happened in other countries. However, many ignored the law or tried to cheat. So until about the mid-19th century many Danes still used patronymics when naming their children (as they had always done).


  • “-sen” ~ “son of” (e.g. Davidsen) - it could also be “-son” or “-sohn” (e.g. Davidson or Davidsohn)
  • “-datter” ~”daughter of” (e.g. Davidsdatter)

This also often applied to Jewish names, so you find e.g. "Salomonsen" (~ son of Salomon) and "Isaksen" (~ son of Isak)!

So if you want to find Isak Davidsen’s father, you could look for a man with the given name David

However, that is not the only possibility!

The above mentioned Isak Davidsen could also just be called Isak David and maybe with the addition of the name of the town where he was born or came from, which could be Hamburg. Then his name would have been Isak David Hamburg. (Both David and Hamburg being surnames!)

Jews used various ways of choosing a surname for their children, for instance the first name of the father as surname for the children or both the first and the surname of the father or ....

It might be easier to show an example of the possibilities:

Aron, the son of the above mentioned Isak David (Hamburg) could have the following surnames -- at different places and at different times (which means that he might be found under all these names during his lifetime!!):

Aron, son of Isak David (Hamburg) could be known as:
Aron Isak
Aron Isaksen
Aron Isak David
Aron Isak Davidsen
Aron Hamburg
Aron David Hamburg
Aron Isaksen Hamburg
Aron Isak David Hamburg
Aron Isak Davidsen Hamburg
... etc. ...

-- but: he might have been known under a totally different name!

One example: Pinches (1725-1807), the son of the Ashkenazi Jew Moses Aaron Nathan in the town Nakskov, first took the name of the town in which he was born Nakskov (sometimes spelled Nasschou). So he was called Pinches Nasche (Nakskov/Nasschou). However, later when Pinches wanted to move to Copenhagen, he could not do so, because Ashkenazi Jews were not allowed to settle wherever they wanted, only Sephardic Jews had that privilege at the time.

So Pinches changed his name to Bendix Henriques - Henriques after his grandmother who was born Henriques and married to an Henriques as well. The Henriques family was a wellknown Sephardic family, so he had no problems getting citizenship in Copenhagen.

So you find Pinches Nasche ~ Bendix Henriques!

Talking about changing names:

Emigrants often changed their names. Not only in recent times. For the Sephardic Jews it was common to choose and use the name most suitable for the occasion! -- e.g. the first Jew who received a "Letter of Protection" in 1622 was Albert Dionis who was also known as -- and used those names himself at different occasions! -- Albert Denis, Alvaro Denis, Albrecht de Nyes, Albertus Dionysios, Samuel Hyac and Samuel Jachja!

It was also common practice for converts to Christianity to take new (more Christian) first names (such as Christian, Frederik, Johannes, Charlotte, Amalie and Christiane), sometimes they also changed their surnames – but there were no specific rules or traditions.

One example: in 1813 Jacob Philip and his wife Doba were christened in Aarhus and their names were changed to Christian and Christine Dessau. Why they chose the surname Dessau is not evident, as Dessau and Dessauer were known Jewish surnames. One guess is that Jacob Philip’s family name might have been Dessau from the beginning!?

This is just a brief outline to alert you to the difficulties of searching for your ancestor in Denmark. You really have to use your imagination and detective skills!

As you have probably noted from the above, the Danish spelling of Jewish names differ from the English spelling (and probably from other spellings, too).

I am trying to prepare a list of the variations, but until I finish that, you will have to use your imagination for this as well.

However, I can just briefly give a few examples:

BeilaBela, Bella
BerBehr (sometimes: Bär)
Chaia Kaja, Caja
ChanaHanne, Hanna
ChoneElkone, Conny
Gita, GitlGitte, Birgitte
Isaac Isak, Isack, Isaac, Itsik
Joseph Josef
LeibLeb, Löb
MeyerMejer, Meier
Solomon Salomon

I guess it is difficult for you to believe me, but actually, Jewish genealogists are the lucky ones! The Jewish names are much easier to search for than the ordinary Danish names. In 1994 about 40% of the Danish population had a "-sen" surname such as "Jensen, "Pedersen", "Andersen", "Christensen" etc. Previously the percentage was much higher, because of the inconvenience of all the persons named "Peter Jensen" and "Hans Christensen" many tend to change their names to something more "unique".

Good luck in your research

P.S.: Please don't write to me personally if you have any questions - I am inundated with mail as it is, and I simply don't have time to reply individually. So send your questions to Scandinavia SIG's Discussion Group, and then I or some of other members might be able to help you. I can tell you that many of the members are far more experienced and knowledgeable than I am!

Elsebeth Paikin
SIG Coordinator
Scandinavia SIG

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