The Names of the Jews

A Preliminary FAQ

by Joachim Mugdan

Institute of General Linguistics, University of Münster, Germany

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.


(Please note that the other messages contain additional references)

#01 Names, Names, Names ... [extract] (31 Jan 1994)

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(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.

#02 Names: Recommended reading etc. [extract] (1 Feb 94)

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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

#03 [Books; extract from longer message] (2 Feb 1994)

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[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!

#04 [Books] (23 May 1994)

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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 ...

#05 [Adoption of Family Names] (6 June 1994)

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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.

#06 'Ridiculous' Family Names (14 Aug 1994)

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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.

#07 [Adoption of Family Names & Earlier Name System] (16 Aug 1994)

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[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.

#08 [Kinnui; personal message to Dan Leeson] (10 Nov 1994)

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> 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.

#09 Re: Adoption of family names (5 Feb 1995)

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In a message of Mon, 30 Jan 1995 17:06:01 LOCAL, Mimi Hiller
<> 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.

#10 [Family Names Ending in -s] (26 May 1995)

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In a message of Sat, 13 May 1995 11:56:23 GMT, David Wihl
wrote (Subject: Re: Tribal Membership--Cohen/Levi/Israelite),

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.

#11 [Re: Origin of Family Name] ISAACS (29 Aug 1995)

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In a message of Mon, 28 Aug 1995 09:45:08 -0400, EDWARD L CHUMNEY
<> 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.

Copyright (c) Joachim Mugdan 1994-1995
Joachim Mugdan <>
InfoFile created 7 September 1995 / HTML version 26 December 1995