NAMEN: Where Do Jews Get All These Names?
A Song about Jewish Names
by Corey Weinstein
Namen, Namen, oy vey Namen, where do Jews get all these names?
Epstein, Einstein, Bernstein, Weinstein, why are they so much the same?
In the Pale we Jews had our names given on from one to next.
Names that spoke out of our fathers were the ones we liked the best.
Avraham ben Yisrael was good enough for great grand-dad.
Mordekhe ben Shlomo told you this was just the one right lad.
And if two folks had the same name, we’d just add a town to it.
Bratslav, Vilne, Lodz and Lublin, Minsk and Pinsk and Kreminits.
(CHORUS in English)
Then there came the Prussians, wanted all their taxes.
Followed by the Russians, army ranks to fill.
Signed us up in big books, making us official.
1800 was when we swallowed that hard pill.
Some Jews kept on using Dad’s name adding –sohn or –witz to it.
Mendel’s boy was Mendelsohn, Yacob’s son, J’cobovitz.
In the city, for the business one would use the name prescribed.
In the shtetl, with the family use of it would be a lie.
There were Jews in Frankfort’s ghetto got names in the Middle Age.
Judengasse Jews were given names from plaques up on each home.
Adler, eagle; Engel, angel; Nussbaum from the nut tree sign.
Blum got from a floral placard for that fam’ly was just fine.
(CHORUS in Yiddish)
Zaynen gekoomen day Preissen, gevult ale shteiern.
Nakher di Roosen, boyen armayin.
Af di groyse bicher, gevuren ufitsiel.
Akhtsn yar hundert prubirt der tam foon sam.
Names were bought and names were sold but names from Toyre were forbid.
Russians, Prussians, asked us, forced us, edict after edict scorned.
Even great Napoleon just couldn’t make us use those names.
It took more than a full cent’ry for us to then play their game.
Katz and Cohn and Kahn and Kaplan all came from the priestly class.
Levy, Levin, Segal, Chagall of an old mill,
Klein meant small and Lustig happy, Kurtz was short and Baruch blessed.
Scher a tailor, Gerber tanner, Kramer merchant, to the last.
(Chorus in English)
Don’t hak me a tshaynik will you, namen akh oy vey iz mir.
I’m a bise tsemisht what with namen comin’ out my ears.
Fleisher is a butcher and then Nagel nailed and Becker baked.
Names that ended Stein and Man were often just a German fake.
Wealthy folks bought names they wanted, Rosenblum and Lilienthal.
Lieber lover, Koenig king, while poor Jews got names meant to smear.
Borgenicht meant do not borrow, Klutz was clumsy, Billig cheap.
Fresser tagged you as a glutton, Schmaltz just said you oozed like grease.
(Chorus in Yiddish)
Corey Weinstein is a semi-retired homeopathic physician who has played clarinet since childhood. He plays with his synagogue choir, a neighborhood jazz band, a leftwing marching band, and a few chamber music groups. For the past 45 years he has volunteered as a human rights advocate working with prisoners, particularly those in Supermax units in the U.S., and as a consultant to the World Health Organization’s Health in Prison Project in Europe. The accordion on the recording is played by Jordan Epstein.
Audrey Goodfriend (1920-2013), who wrote the Yiddish verse of this song, was the daughter of Jewish anarchists in New York City. At 18 she left home to travel to Canada and visit Emma Goldman. She moved to San Francisco to establish an anarchist commune in 1946. In 1958 she became a founder of the Walden School in Berkeley, where she taught for thirteen years. In her elder years, she joined a theater company, Stagebridge, and remained active in the Bay Area anarchist community.