The Origins and Meanings of Ashkenazic Last Names

by Bennett Muraskin

1244px-Juden_1881(Editor’s note: Corrections and updates for this article are listed at the end of it. See also Bennett Muraskin’s follow-up piece by clicking here. For a musical exploration of Ashkenazic names by Corey Weinstein, click here.)

Ashkenazic Jews were among the last Europeans to take family names. Some German-speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so. The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.

In attempting to build modern nation-states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted and educated (in that order of importance). For centuries, Jewish communal leaders were responsible for collecting taxes from the Jewish population on behalf of the government, and in some cases were responsible for filling draft quotas. Education was traditionally an internal Jewish affair.

Until this period, Jewish names generally changed with every generation. For example, if Moses son of Mendel (Moyshe ben Mendel) married Sarah daughter of Rebecca (Sora bas Rifke), had a boy and named it Samuel (Shmuel), the child would be called Shmuel ben Moyshe. If they had a girl and named her Feygele, she would be called Feygele bas Sora.

Jews distrusted the authorities and resisted the new requirement. Although they were forced to take last names, at first they were used only for official purposes. Among themselves, they kept their traditional names. Over time, Jews accepted the new last names, which were essential as Jews sought to advance within the broader society and as the shtetles were transformed or Jews left them for big cities.

The easiest way for Jews to assume an official last name was to adapt the name they already had, making it permanent. This explains the use of “patronymics” and “matronymics.”

PATRONYMICS (son of…..)

In Yiddish or German, it would be “son” or “sohn”  or “er.” In most Slavic languages like Polish or Russian, it would be “wich” or “witz.”

For example: The son of Mendel took the last name Mendelsohn; the son of Abraham became Abramson or Avromovitch; the son of Menashe became Manishewitz; the son of Itzhak became Itskowitz; the son of Berl took the name Berliner; the son of Kesl took the name Kessler, etc.

MATRONYMICS (daughter of…)

Reflecting the prominence of Jewish women in business, some families made last names out of women’s first names: Chaiken — son of Chaikeh; Edelman — husband of Edel; Gittelman — husband of Gitl; Glick or Gluck — may derive from Glickl, a popular woman’s name as in the famous “Glickl of Hameln,” whose memoirs, written around 1690, are an early example of Yiddish literature

Gold/Goldman/Gulden may derived from Golda; Malkov from Malke; Perlman — husband of Perl; Rivken — may derive from Rivke; Soronsohn—son of Sarah.

PLACE NAMES

The next most common source of Jewish last names is probably places. Jews used the town or region where they lived, or where their families came from, as their last name. As a result, the Germanic origins of most East European Jews is reflected in their names. For example, Asch is an acronym for the towns of Aisenshtadt or Altshul or Amshterdam. Other place-based Jewish names include: Auerbach/Orbach; Bacharach; Berger (generic for townsman); Berg (man), meaning, from a hilly place; Bayer — from Bavaria; Bamberger; Berliner, Berlinsky — from Berlin; Bloch (foreigner); Brandeis; Breslau; Brodsky; Brody; Danziger Deutch/Deutscher — German; Dorf(man), meaning villager; Eisenberg; Epstein; Florsheim; Frankel — from the Franconia region of Germany; Frankfurter; Ginsberg; Gordon — from Grodno, Lithuania or from the Russian word gorodin, for townsman; Greenberg; Halperin—from Helbronn, Germany;Like-what-youre-reading Hammerstein; Heller — from Halle, Germany; Hollander — not from Holland, but from town in Lithuania settled by Dutch; Horowitz, Hurwich, Gurevitch — from Horovice in Bohemia; Koenigsberg; Krakauer — from Cracow, Poland; Landau; Lipsky — from Leipzig, Germany; Litwak — from Lithuania; Minsky — from Minsk, Belarus; Mintz—from Mainz, Germany; Oppenheimer; Ostreicher — from Austria; Pinsky — from Pinsk, Belarus; Posner — from Posen, Germany; Prager — from Prague; Rappoport — from Porto, Italy; Rothenberg — from then town of the red fortress in Germany; Shapiro — from Speyer, Germany; Schlesinger — from Silesia, Germany; Steinberg; Unger — from Hungary; Vilner — from Vilna, Poland/Lithuania; Wallach—from Bloch, derived from the Polish word for foreigner; Warshauer/Warshavsky—from Warsaw; Wiener — from Vienna; Weinberg.

OCCUPATIONAL NAMES

Craftsmen/Workers

Ackerman — plowman; Baker/Boker — baker; Blecher — tinsmith; Fleisher/Fleishman/Katzoff/Metger — butcher; Cooperman — coppersmith; Drucker — printer; Einstein — mason; Farber — painter/dyer; Feinstein — jeweler; Fisher — fisherman; Forman — driver/teamster; Garber/Gerber—tanner; Glazer/Glass/Sklar — glazier; Goldstein — goldsmith; Graber — engraver; Kastner — cabinet maker; Kunstler — artist; Kramer — store keeper; Miller — miller; Nagler — nail maker; Plotnick — carpenter; Sandler/Shuster — shoemaker; Schmidt/Kovalsky — blacksmith; Shnitzer — carver; Silverstein — jeweler; Spielman — player (musician?); Stein/Steiner/Stone — jeweler; Wasserman — water carrier

Merchants

Garfinkel/Garfunkel — diamond dealer; Holzman/Holtz/Waldman — timber dealer; Kaufman — merchant; Rokeach — spice merchant; Salzman — salt merchant; Seid/Seidman—silk merchant; Tabachnik — snuff seller; Tuchman — cloth merchant; Wachsman — wax dealer; Wechsler/Halphan — money changer; Wollman — wool merchant; Zucker/Zuckerman — sugar merchant

Jewdayo adRelated to tailoring

Kravitz/Portnoy/Schneider/Snyder — tailor; Nadelman/Nudelman — also tailor from “needle’; Sher/Sherman — also tailor from “scissors” or “shears”; Presser/Pressman — clothing presser; Futterman/Kirshner/Kushner/Peltz — furrier; Weber — weaver

Medical

Aptheker — druggist; Feldsher — surgeon; Bader/Teller — barber

Related to liquor trade

Bronfman/Brand/Brandler/Brenner — distiller; Braverman/Meltzer — brewer; Kabakoff/Krieger/Vigoda — tavern keeper; Geffen — wine merchant; Wine/Weinglass — wine merchant; Weiner — wine maker

Religious/Communal

Altshul/Althshuler — associated with the old synagogue in Prague; Cantor/Kazan/Singer/Spivack — cantor or song leader in shul; Feder/Federman/Schreiber — scribe; Haver — from haver (court official); Klausner — rabbi for small congregation; Klopman — calls people to morning prayers by knocking on their window shutters; Lehrer/Malamud/Malmud — teacher; Rabin — rabbi (Rabinowitz—son of rabbi); London — scholar, from the Hebrew lamden (misunderstood by immigration inspectors); Reznick — ritual slaughterer; Richter — judge; Sandek — godfather; Schechter/Schachter/Shuchter etc. — ritual slaughterer from Hebrew schochet; Shofer/Sofer/Schaeffer — scribe; Shulman/Skolnick — sexton; Spector — inspector or supervisor of schools

PERSONAL TRAITS

Alter/Alterman — old; Dreyfus—three legged, perhaps referring to someone who walked with a cane; Erlich — honest; Frum — devout ; Gottleib — God lover, perhaps referring to someone very devout; Geller/Gelber — yellow, perhaps referring to someone with blond hair; Gross/Grossman — big; Gruber — coarse or vulgar; Feifer/Pfeifer — whistler; Fried/Friedman—happy; Hoch/Hochman/Langer/Langerman — tall; Klein/Kleinman — small; Koenig — king, perhaps someone who was chosen as a “Purim King,” in reality a poor wretch; Krauss — curly, as in curly hair; Kurtz/Kurtzman — short; Reich/Reichman — rich; Reisser — giant; Roth/Rothman — red head; Roth/Rothbard — red beard; Shein/Schoen/Schoenman — pretty, handsome; Schwartz/Shwartzman/Charney — black hair or dark complexion; Scharf/Scharfman — sharp, i.e  intelligent; Stark — strong, from the Yiddish shtark ; Springer — lively person, from the Yiddish springen for jump

INSULTING NAMES

These were sometimes foisted on Jews who discarded them as soon as possible, but a few may remain:

Billig — cheap; Gans — goose; Indyk — goose; Grob — rough/crude; Kalb — cow

ANIMAL NAMES

It is common among all peoples to take last names from the animal kingdom. Baer/Berman/Beerman/Berkowitz/Beronson — bear; Adler — eagle (may derive from reference to an eagle in Psalm 103:5); Einhorn — unicorn; Falk/Sokol/Sokolovksy — falcon; Fink — finch; Fuchs/Liss — fox; Gelfand/Helfand — camel (technically means elephant but was used for camel too); Hecht—pike; Hirschhorn — deer antlers; Karp — carp; Loeb — lion; Ochs— ox; Strauss — ostrich (or bouquet of flowers); Wachtel — quail.

HEBREW NAMES

Some Jews either held on to or adopted traditional Jews names from the Bible and Talmud. The big two are Cohen (Cohn, Kohn, Kahan, Kahn, Kaplan) and Levi (Levy, Levine, Levinsky, Levitan, Levenson, Levitt, Lewin, Lewinsky, Lewinson). Others include Aaron — Aronson, Aronoff; Asher; Benjamin; David — Davis,Davies; Ephraim — Fishl; Emanuel — Mendel; Isaac — Isaacs, Isaacson/Eisner; Jacob — Jacobs, Jacobson, Jacoby; Judah — Idelsohn,Udell,Yudelson; Mayer-Meyer;  Menachem — Mann,Mendel; Reuben — Rubin; Samuel — Samuels, Zangwill; Simon — Schimmel; Solomon — Zalman.

HEBREW ACRONYMS

Names based on Hebrew acronyms include: Baron — bar aron (son of Aaron); Beck — bene kedoshim (descendant of martyrs); Getz — gabbai tsedek (righteous synagogue official); Katz — kohen tsedek (righteous priest); Metz — from moreh tsedek (teacher of righteousness; Sachs, Saks — zera kodesh shemo (his name descends from martyrs); Segal — se gan levia (second-rank Levite)

OTHER HEBREW- and YIDDISH-DERIVED NAMES

Lieb means “lion” in Yiddish. It is the root of many Ashkenazic last names including Liebowitz, Lefkowitz, Lebush, and Leon. It is the Yiddish translation of the Hebrew work for lion — aryeh. The lion was the symbol of the tribe of Judah.

Hirsch means “deer” or “stag” in Yiddish. It is the root of many Ashkenazic last names including Hirschfeld, Hirschbein/Hershkowitz (son of Hirsch)/Hertz/Herzl, Cerf, Hart, and Hartman. It is the Yiddish translation of the Hebrew word for gazelle — tsvi.  The gazelle was the symbol of the tribe of Naphtali.

Taub means “dove” in Yiddish. It is the root of the Ashkenazic last name Tauber. The symbol of The dove is associated with the prophet Jonah.

Wolf is the root of the Ashkenazic last names Wolfson, Wouk and Volkovich. The wolf was the symbol of the tribe of Benjamin.

Eckstein — Yiddish for cornerstone, derived from Psalm 118:22

Good(man) — Yiddish translation of Hebrew work for “good”: tuviah 

Margolin — Hebrew for pearl

INVENTED ‘FANCY SHMANCY’ NAMES

When Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire were required to assume last names, some chose the nicest ones they could think of — and may have been charged a registration fee by the authorities. According to the YIVO Encyclopedia, “the resulting names often are associated with nature and beauty.  It is very plausible that the choices were influenced by the general romantic  tendencies of German culture at that time.” These names include: Applebaum — apple tree; Birnbaum — pear tree; Buchsbaum — box tree; Kestenbaum — chestnut tree; Kirshenbaum — cherry tree; Mandelbaum — almond tree; Nussbaum — nut tree; Tannenbaum — fir tree; Teitelbaum — palm tree.

Other name , chosen or purchased, were combinations with these roots: Blumen (flower), Fein (fine), Gold, Green, Lowen (lion), Rosen (rose), Schoen/Schein (pretty) —  combined with berg (hill or mountain), thal (valley), bloom (flower), zweig (wreath), blatt (leaf), vald or wald (woods), feld (field).

Miscellaneous other names included Diamond; Glick/Gluck — luck; Hoffman — hopeful; Fried/Friedman — happiness; Lieber/Lieberman — lover.

Jewish family names from non-Jewish languages included: Sender/Saunders — from Alexander; Kagan — descended from the Khazars, a people of Turkic speaking Jews from Central Asia; Kelman/Kalman — from the Greek name Kalonymous, popular among Jews in medieval France and Italy. It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew “shem tov” (good name); Marcus/Marx — from Latin, referring to the pagan god Mars.

Finally, there were Jewish names changed or shortened by immigration inspectors or by immigrants themselves and their descendants to sound more American, which is why “Sean Ferguson” was a Jew.

Let us close with a ditty:

And this is good old Boston;

The home of the bean and the cod.

Where the Lowells speak only to the Cabots;

And the Cabots speak Yiddish, by God!           

 

Bennett Muraskin is a contributing writer to Jewish Currents magazine and the author of The Association of Jewish Libraries Guide to Yiddish Short Stories,  Let Justice Well Up Like Water: Progressive Jews from Hillel to Helen Suzman, and Humanist Readings in Jewish Folklore, among other books.

Author’s note: After this article went viral and fetched more than 500 comments in late December, I gathered the following corrections and additions:

Introduction: Before Jews took last names, girls would be named after their fathers, not their mothers, as in Rifke bas Avrom (Rebecca son of Abraham)

Patronymics: “Vich” and “vitz” should be included along with “wich” or “witz.” Berliner does not mean “son of Berl”

Matronymics should be changed to “Based on Women’s Names,” because most of these names are not strictly matronymics. Other surnames based on women’s first names include: Dvorkin–from Dvora; Frumkin–from Frume; Leaman/Lehman–husband of Leah

Place Names: Dreyfus may come from the German city of Trier, pronounced Treves in Latin.

Occupational Names: Hoffman is an estate manager, not a hopeful man. Feldsher is a barber/soldier with some surgical skills, not a surgeon

Personal Traits: Fried/Friedman may mean peaceful man, rather than happy man, but I have seen both claims. Klugman should be added.  It means smart man. Weiss/Weissbard should be added to refer to a man with white hair or a white beard. Susskind or Ziskind should be added to refer to someone with a sweet disposition.

Insulting Names: Gans means goose, but it is not an insulting name. Indyk means turkey, not goose. Billig means cheap, but may also be a place name and if so, not insulting. Kalb means calf, not cow.

Animal Names: Berkowitz does not derive from bear. It is a patronymic for son of Berke.

Hebrew Names from the Bible: Other such names include: Josephs/Josephson; Pincus

Hebrew Acronyms: Shub or Shoub should be added. It derives from shokhet u’bodek, which means meat inspector

Other Hebrew-derived Names: The proper transliteration for lion in Yiddish is Leyb, not Lieb. Jaffe or Yaffe should be added; i is the Hebrew word for beautiful or pleasant.

Invented “Fancy Shmancy” Names: Zweig means branch, not wreath. Lieber or Lieberman does not mean lover (man), rather it means lovely man. Names like Bernstein (amber stone) or other “stein” or “stone” endings are more likely to be invented names rather than occupational names. Farb should be added as an ending, as in Goldfarb. It means colors.

Non-Jewish Languages: Kagan is a Slavic variation of Cohen, not a name derived from descendants of the Khazars, Jews who lived in the Jewish Kingdom of Khazaria that existed in Central Asia in the Middle Ages.

Anglicized Names: Immigration inspectors did not typically change the names of immigrants.

Read Bennett Muraskin’s follow-up post to this article, “Going Viral with Ashkenazic Name Origins,” published January 10, 2014

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Comments (601)

  1. A joy to have Bennett so to share his erudition and to enlighten us! From my own experience, add Tatarsky (Tatar in the U.S.), and the phenomenon of attaching prefix and/or suffix to increase nationalization; thus: Lev imbedded in Eglovitz, Yegelevitch (my ancestral name), Levitz, Levinsky, etc.

      • Names with “Tatar” in them refer to a number of Turkic peoples ranging from Crimea to the Urals. Many of the people with such names are actually Ukrainian, Polish, or Russian of the Christian faith, and not Jewish at all; it often suggests a Tatar ancestor or someone who looks like a Tatar (dark in appearance, usually). My own surname is of Czech-German origin from “Vaclav”; there are a number of variant spellings. Some are Jewish, but most are Christian Europeans. Yes, I know a ” Maxim Tatar” who recently immigrated to Canada from Israel (born in Uman’ , Ukraine) but I’m uncertain if the name is from his Jewish or Gentile side. Other derivations: Tatarenko, Tatarchuk, Tatarewicz, Tataryn, Tatarov, Tataruk, Tatarinov (or -off), , Tatarliov. There is also an A. Tatar and a Tatar Renovations listed in the Regina, SK, phonebook (unknown if Jewish or not).

      • There are Tatarsky’s in my lineage. My maternal grandfather’s mother’s maiden name was Tatarsky. She had one son, Hy, but he had 2 daughters, so they both took their husband’s names and no one is carrying on that line.

      • my husbands mother’s maiden name was tatarsky. she was born in England, and lived in Chicago, Milwaukee and her later years were in fl.

      • Yes, there are Tatarskys in the USA, me, my son, my daughter and two grandchildren of that name. There are my late youngest cousin’s wife, and their two daughters. The Zhitomir-
        based Tatarskys went to the USA, Denver and St. Louis, and one women with that original “maiden name” went to Canada and has hundreds of descendants (none named Tatarsky). Others with that name went to Israel or stayed in Russia, one who we all believe was the mother of Chaim Nachum Bialik, the poet of Israel.

    • Tatar is a wonderful name… I wonder how it came about? Tatar is a Turkic tribe… might have come from the Crimean Tatars… I won’t go further than that hehehe

    • The name METERSKY came from my great Grandfather, a tailor for Russian officers in Siberia. When the Czar decreed that all subjects have a surname, he selected “meter,” the measure of cloth. It is a singular family name. Please add this name to your list as it is rare.

    • I just found this and am wondering if I can still get any answers on this.
      I am interested in the origins of some of the names in my family. My maternal grandparents were Neuwohner (I know this means “New owner” but I’m not sure of the origin. They lived in Miskolc, Hungary.) and Lowinger–is this a form of Levi or is it a place name?
      My paternal grandfather (he lived in Romania) was Loffler–I know this means a spoonmaker, but most of the Loffler/Loeffler’s I know of in the U.S. are Christians of German origin. As far as I know there were no religious intermarriages in my family until the generation after myself (I am in my 70’s). I have hit several snags in researching my family and wonder if knowing more about our names would help. My parents were not devout Jews and I know very little about our Jewish given names, which has also been a handicap to me in doing family history.

      • I don’t know if you know this but the word wohner actually means “resider” more than “owner”. Consequently “Neuwohner” probably means something closer to “newcomer” than “new owner.”

      • I noticed your name Loeffler. My sister-in-law was Susan Loeffler, formerly of Budapest, Hungary. She emigrated to Canada at about age 14 as her both parents were killed. She now lives in Winnipeg, and is 80 years old. If you would write to her, perhaps you might even find some connection….???? susangarfield@shaw.ca

  2. Ralph Katzenell (enbogen) - Reply

    And you could add Katz, Katzen, Katzenell, Katzenellson, Ellen, Ellenbogen, Bogen and maybe others all reriving from Katzenellenbogen – via Rabbi Meir of Padua and som descendent that took the name of the small authority in the Taunus hills above the Rhine.

    When the various Avei Bet Din wern’t busy marrying their cousins – a popular custom with Yidden in those days, they also took steps to “protect” the “honour” of the family names. Hence if some lucky fellow got to marry a Katzenellenbogen girlie, he was permitted only to adopt the the name Katzenellenpogen.

    Gevalt!

  3. Sandra Wilson Hanf - Reply

    According to ancestry.com the surname, Diamond is of Ashkenazic origin. In tracing my origin, my great-granfather’s name was Eugene Diamond b. 1860. However, many Diamonds came from Ireland- so which is true, I wonder. I was told my granmother was also
    German but can’t find a record of that.

    • Sandra, your Diamond reference caught my eye. My great great grandmother, was Roseanna(h) Diamond, c. 1809 in Derry, Ireland; died in Philadelphia). Family story handed down says she was from a Jewish family who had assimilated into the Catholic community. That motivated me to see if a DNA test would reveal anything. I find I am from Ashkenazic origin. Finally, the stories believed by some family members as tales have been authenticated by today’s science. I am thrilled.

  4. I have been doing some research into my family name and history. I have found to my surprise that my surname is found all over the world and some information leans toward Ashkenazi Levite heritage. I still have much work to do. Do you know of any geneticist who might need DNA samples to do more research for Jewish history. I would Love to know more.

    • From a fellow Graff, I have been told that the surname comes from southern Poland. This was supported by a recent trip to Krakow where I came across a “Graff Tattoo & Piercing” store owned by locals.

      • “Graf” is indeed a German aristocratic title, “Count” seems to be the correct equivalent in English as far i see. But it is also a German name. A “Graf” likely originally was any function in some administration which required writing skills, the word can be traced back (via Latin: graphis = writing pen)to Greek ” gráphein” which means “write”. “Graff” to me looks like an version of “Graf”

    • The family story is this: the name came about during Napoleon’s emancipation of Southern Germany. One relative was apparently a little conceited, hence the title “count” or Graff. I had my father’s DNA checked several years ago by the Nat. Geo project and surprise of all surprises, his roots (40k years ago) are Siberian! I was so shocked I ran it again — still Siberian. I hope this helps some of you.

  5. Sheila Klein-Weckman - Reply

    My maiden name is Klein, my grandfather used the spelling Kline and according to his family census reports the name was Klem and migrated from Sweden. I am stuck in Sweden nearing the 1700’s. Information is leading me to the Ashkenazi Jews. I read that some migrating Jews were baptized as Lutherans in Sweden. Still trying to locate baptizmal records. How do I find out if we were Jewish immigrants to Sweden or German and migrated from Germany or somewhere in Europe.
    Sincerely, Stuck in Sweden

    • My Name is Klem and as far as I know the relevant ancestors hail from Czech Republic. We live in Austria at least since the very early 1900s, but I would very much like to know, where this name really comes from. Some distant relatives have a second “m” at the end of their “Klem” but that is all the variation I know of. Sorry, only more questions and no answers.

  6. Interesting but many conjectures. Zweig is a branch, twig (not wreath. Fried is peace (not happiness).Lieberman is lovely man (Liebeman is lover.
    There is no Bloch for “foreigner” in the Polish language. Forman is older then U.S.A and comes from Polish “furman’ a wagon driver. It must have been pronounced.the English way. Feldsher is from fat.German Feldscherer-a barber in the military who also was dabbling in medical service (far from surgeon). Gruber is rather from Polish “gruby”-fat, overwight. Indyk is a turkey (the bird) not “goose”).Kalb is calf (teenage cow). Kagan is theRussian way “Kahan’ is pronounced. there is no “H’ sound in Russian and is replaced by”K” and fianally, Leyb (not -lieb) is a real life “lion” in Yiddish.

    • Gruber is a rather frequent German name in Bavaria and Austria (Not sure about the meaning, but plausible would be it referred to people related to some pit or maybe miners). Also “furman” clearly is derived from a German word: Fuhrmann, which is also a German name.

      • As for the Bloch there seem 2 main competing explanations: 1) It derives from Polish “włoch” = “Italian” . I guess it had a broader meaning earlier: “włoch” is likely related to the old German word “welsch” which refers to any people speaking a Roman language. History for the name would be immigrants from southern Europe 2) Not so nice explanation: Bloch = Block. (Think of a block of wood or concrete).
        Another possible explanation i found: Bloch could be short version of Polish błogość = Happyness.

        • According to Wikipedia & what I have read in several genealogy books: “Jewish (Ashkenazic): regional name for someone in Eastern Europe originating from Italy or France, from Polish “Włoch” (Wloch Woloch and Beloch being surnames with the same origin) meaning “Italian” (originally “stranger / of foreign stock”).[1]” Reference is Polonsky, Antony, The Jews in Poland and Russia, vol. 1, Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. 2010, p. 12. Thus, probably referred to Jews who migrated eastward due to expulsion from Spain during the Inquisition.

    • Deborah Faith Bippes - Reply

      I recently learned who my Grandmother is from Ancestry.com. Her last name was Liebanau. Have you ever heard of that name, and if so, what is the root meaning?

  7. I had always thought that Freedman/Frydman/Friedman/Friedmann meant “Man of Peace.” That is exactly what it means in German. It doesn’t mean ‘happy’. And that is why someone named Friedmann often chages the name to Ish-Shalom “Man of Peace” if they are changing to a Hebrew equivalent when making aliyah, or some other reason. This is certainly of equal probability to “Happy Man.” I don’t know of any Friedmanns who changed to Simcha, although I guess that it is possible that some do.

    • Freedman, Friedman, etc. derives from the word ”freylich” in Yiddish which means joyful or happy. Years ago, one person did tell me it means “Man of Peace” but he was the only person who told me this. A number of people told me that it means joyful or happy. When they hear Simcha Freedman they always mention that it is a double ”simcha” because ”simcha” also means joyful. It may mean ”Man of Peace” in German, I don’t know, but not in Yiddish. My paternal grandfather (may he rest in peace) came from Russia, not Germany so Freedman, Friedman, etc. is not a German name. I don’t know any Freedman’s who came from Germany. Freedman is usually from Russia, Lithuania or Hungary.

    • By the way, if anyone knows the best way to trace my lineage I would appreciate it very much. I have a great deal of my lineage on both of my mother’s sides especially my mother’s maternal side because the names are less common and the work was done for me by first cousins once removed, but Freedman is a very common name. In fact, I heard it is the most popular Jewish name. I know that we are Levites and that my grandfather (may he rest in peace) came to the USA via South Africa on a boat called the “Philadelphia” when he was approximately 23 years of age. Of course, I also know my grandfather’s first name and my great-grandfather’s first name as well. This is all the information I have. I am not even sure if he came from Russia or Lithuania. I know it is one of them.

      • Simcha,

        Try searching though old census records
        and emigration ship docs to trace your Grandfather’s birthplace. I found my paternal grandfather emigrated from Russia through Ellis Island.

  8. Very interesting research that helped me to understand roots of Jewish names of Egyptian
    Jews like hadad,blacksmith .sabbagh,dyer . Nagar, carpenter although most of these people
    Were faraway from such crafts.on the other hand my late mother used to deal with tawfik gazzar
    Who was a jeweler and not a bucher in old Cairo.

  9. There are so many mistakes here that it’s a shame because there might be some truth lurking amidst the bubbe-meyses. Boris Kopit noted many of those I would have mentioned.

    • As a Jewish genealogist I can tell you that although there may be mistakes, there is a lot of truth in there. Use clues that are here, together with language translations, along with your family history, to help you come to reasonable conclusions about your family name. Jewish genealogy is difficult partly because of what is in front of us here, that we didn’t always have surnames, and partly the shortage of records, however, there are more records out there than you may think.

      • I agree with Chana Batya that there’s a lot of guesswork and assumptions in this article, though most of it is accurate. Anyone fluent in Yiddish can pick up on some of the mistakes. As a genealogist you should change your last name to Genealowitz.

    • Mickey Todd, Ian Todd - Reply

      If you can help by showing the mistakes I’d appreciate it, thanks
      Family names, among others, Goldfarb, Tenenbaum .

      • I thought a lot of the name origins looked like folktales rather than real genealogy. Also I have read that the stuff about immigration authorities changing people’s names was a myth because your name was written in your passport or on your ticket. Immigrants often changed their names to anglicize them.

        My “fancy-shmancy” name (according to the article) is also shared by Christian Austrians I have found in online searches, who apparently have had the name for over 300 years…so much for paying the agents of the Austro-Hungarian emperor for the privilege.

        Also…Hello, Mickey, funny meeting you here.

        • My grandfather came here with his given name Mendel Chochem, his brother came later and was given the name of Kaufman by immigration.

          • Chohem sounds great! It means a smart one. In older times it would be Mendel der Chohem. he propbably was a smart guy. Sonya the litvak.

      • Goldfarb is literally, “gold color”
        Tenenbaum is probably related to Tannenbaum in German and tanenboym in Yiddish, both of which mean fir tree, which used to be decorated by Germans on Christmas hence the song O Tannenbaum.

    • So Jewish Currents is not a peer reviewed journal. But — does it have editors? Where did the author get his information about immigration officials? The story about female matronymics is news to me. What is its source?

      • The famous late Yiddish linguist, Dr. Mordecai Shechter (Columbia University), lectured his students on the practice of adopting mothers’ first names as Yiddish family names of their descendants. As I recall, the latter usually ended in “–in” and included Rivkin (from Rivke/Rebecca), Frumkin (from Frume), Chanin/Khanin (from Khane / Hannah /Anne), Dvorkin (from Dvoyre / Deborah)…

  10. Dear,
    Can you please tell me what does Jewish surname of SAMBOL mean?
    I’m very much obliged to you.
    I.Tabakovic,a history teacher
    USA

      • My maiden name was “Sambul” spelled with a “u”. My father’s family (Leon Sambul) came from Yavorov, a town in Galicia which was near Lvov. We actually visited Lvov and Yavorov (now part of the Ukraine) a few summers ago…There was a town near Lvov named Sambor..Perhaps the Sambols derived the original name from that town and moved onward.

  11. I do not know what the name Sambol means. I researched what I considered the most common Ashkenazic surnames. Sorry.

    I thank those who have made comments, suggestions, corrections etc.

    • Mr. Muraskin, I just came across this wonderful article. Many thanks for your hard work. Are you at all familiar with the surname Mirel? It was my mothers’ maiden name and they were Austrian or Hungarian Jews. While I have been quite successful in researching the other side of the family, I have had absolutely no luck at all with Mirel and my search has made no progress.

      I hope this reaches you.

    • Bennett,

      My maiden name is Libus. The original name comes from Libes, loved one in Yiddish. In our family, it was changed during evacuation of my father, his siblings and grandparents from Ukraine to Uzbekistan and has different variations, such Libus, Libis and Libes. However, the famous synagogue in Prague is named Libus synagogue. So, it must be a popular name. Wanted to hear your opinion on that. Also, my married name is Mayzel, what comes from Yiddish/Hebrew Mazl. It is kind of popular name and is spelled in different variations, such as Meizel, Meisel, etc. Thank you for a very interesting article and research.

  12. This is fascinating, Bennett. Thank you.
    My Ashkenazi surname is “Lowi” which is the anglicization of the German “Loewe” which means “lion” in German. My father’s given name is Yehuda. Of course, the lion was the symbol of the tribe of Judah.

    My mother’s surname is “Paltiel” which is a Hebrew word meaning “God is my refuge”. Are you aware of Hebrew words (not biblical Hebrew names) used as names by Ashkenazis?

    I know a guy named “Rotchtin” which is probably the anglicized transliteration of “Rothstein” as pronounced by a Yiddish-speaking immigrant.

    As for Hebrew acronyms: I had a friend whose surname was “Zack”, which is the abbreviation for the Hebrew “zera kohanim” — “of the seed of the priests”, a “fancy-shmantsy” form of Cohen.

    What do you know about Muraskin?

    • Lowi might also be a variant of Levi. Interestingly, Lavi means lion also in Hebrew. The Israeli air force has a fighter plane called Lavi.

    • Henry, 12 years ago I think I was in touch with your mother Naomi, we shared information about my great grandfather Myer Joel Silverman whom she knew in Montreal. I would love to get back in touch as my mother and I are going to Romania in June. The email address I have for her is naomimd@vif.com and my email is dcasson@jcare.org
      All the best , Daniel Casson

  13. I believe “Kagan” is derived from Kohen, as is “Kogen.” The H sound does not exist in Russian; it switches to a hard G.

    The list does not take into account other switches from H to G like Hersh-Gersh, Hertz-Gertz, Horowitz-Gurovich.

    • Agreed, its unlikely for the surname Kagan to have originated from the Khazars who converted given that almost all Kagans are Kohanim and carry the Kohen modal gene.

    • Hi Arthur
      Are you related to the Liebhaber family in Sydney, Australia? My late mother in law was a Liebhaber. She came from Warsaw but the family originated from a shtetl elsewhere in Poland

  14. Two other names I have run across — Rolnik is a farmer; Koren is from the Hebrew meaning “gleaming” and versions of it include Kerensky and Goren (the Russian guy and the bridge guy, respectively;) and Deutsch, Deitch, Deutch and variations mean simply “German” — usually applied to Jews who left Germany itself and went elsewhere.

    By the way, burg means “fortified hill” not just “hilly place.” And a fortified hill usually connoted a castle. So a name like Koenigsburg would be King’s Hill.

    And, although Bamburger in the article is associated with Berlin — Bamburg is its own place as is Hamburg. Hamburgers often shortened their name back to Hamburg so as not to be confused with meat.

    • My family came from Rosdeitcher. I have never seen it anywhere else but in the NYC/NJ area of USA. Know anything about the name source? Ros (rose) Deitch (German)?

      • “Ros” could also be “horse”, and “deitcher” sounds to me (a German) a bit like either “Deutscher” (German) or “Täuscher” (which could mean either someone who deceives or someone who changes something, i.e. is a merchant). Maybe horse merchant?

  15. I want to add to the comments about the Kastenellenbogen line. The name means “the river shaped like the bend in the elbow,” and we might assume that the surname was taken by those who lived near that river. Our family tree traces back to that line in the mid-1500s. Also descended from them are two most contrasting of public figures: Karl Marx who so disdained the free enterprise system and Helena Rubenstein, who embodied it!

    • My paternal grandmother (Rochel Leah Perlmutter nee. Katzenellenbogen) was part of the the Brest-Litovsk branch of the Katzenellenbogens. My paternal grandfather, also of Brest-Litovsk, was originally a Mutterperl but the name was changed to Perlmutter when he came to America. Anybody out there know more about the Brest-Litovsk branches of either the Kaztenellenbogerns or the Mutterperls?

      • I know of one Katzenellebogen in New York. He is a Russian-speaking journalist. He used to work at a Russian radio station called Davidzon radio in NY. There is a Perelmuter family living in NJ who came from Russia through Israel to the US.

  16. Can you tell me anything about my maiden name “Gutow”?
    My father said it was “Wigutow” (pronounced “Vigutov”) in the shtetl when he was young. It was shortened in Ellis Island.
    I’ve seen “Gutowski”, and some other versions.
    Thanks.

  17. I researched the more common Ashkenazic surnames.

    For that reason, I cannot assist those who are looking for answers about less common names.

    I thank everyone for their comments, corrections, suggestions etc.

  18. My maiden name is Bamash. I believe my grandparents were from Minsk or Rothmesburg (SP)…or somewhere in Russia. Somewhere along the way…I was told that my grandfather’s name was Barmash, but I found my grandfather’s Petition for Naturalization and Declaration of Intention, when he was 24 years old and came to the US, from Liverpool, England…his last name was on these forms as Samuel Bamash. Any idea what Bamash was derieved from…or the origin of the name?? Any info would be most helpful. His wife, my grandmother was Sarah Corson (from Ramonsky (SP), Russia. Thank you.
    Debbie Greenfield

    • Hello, Debbie. Bamash (Barmash) surname is likely to be an abbreviation for Ben Rav Moshe Shmuel – son of Rabbi Shmuel. So, some of your ancestors could be a son of Rabbi Shmuel.
      Abbreviated names were very popular in the Russian Empire. And it was also popular to name children in honor of their ancestors, and that makes me even more confident.
      Shimon,
      Shoah Studies Coordinator,
      Minsk, Belarus

      • Hello Shimon. My grandfather is curiously named Van Grack and is from Belarus, most likely not too far from Minsk. I’ve never been able to locate the origin of this name. Is there a way I can contact you? I will google your info to try to locate you as well.

        Brad Van Grack

      • Hello, Shimon. My grandfather, Alex Lampert, was from Minsk. In the town where I spent most of my adult life – Cologne, Germany – the surname Lampert was about as common as the surname Smith is in the U.S. Any data on how the name Lampert came to Minsk?

        • Hello, Ellen.
          Jewish surnames came to the Eastern Europe (including nowadays Belarus) by the same way as Jewish people did. Surname Lampert is likely to be the translation from the Yiddish word “leopard” and came to our territories from Western Europe in XVIII-XIX centuries.

          Shimon,
          Shoah Studies Coordinator,
          Minsk, Belarus

        • My grandfather, Rabbi Meyer Lampert OMB (from Kovno, Lithuania) told me that Lampert means leopard. I have also read that the name has some connection to the Lombardy region in Italy.

          • My great great grandfather – Rabbi Moshe Schneider was from Vila, Lithuania. He came to USA c.1899 per 1910 census where his occupation is listed as “teacher – Hebrew”. I got an interpretation of the inscription of his sons gravestone which I was told indicated he was a Rabbi. Does anyone know how I might find out for sure? My father thought he was a Hebrew teacher at the Grand Synagogue in Vilna. I haven’t been able to find any immigration documents.

  19. My father name is schoklender he came to Israel from Russia what is the conecthion to the place name schokland in nederland .thank you for your. answer

  20. My father’s last name is Pain. pronounced like Pa-yn or Pa-een. his family comes from Russia, at least they lived there in last century. What is the meaning or origin of this name? Thank you?

    • Might not be very helpful, but there was a Jewish painter, student of Chagall, by that last name. I think it was spelled “Pen”.

  21. I like you used the name aaron son of mendel since that is the perfect example on my family tree. My 2 great grandfather was Aaron Mendel and his father was Moses. Aaron left a son Lieb in Germany and came to America prior to the civil war. He could not speak English. He married a woman from Metz France with the name La Rose and the permission for the marriage was signed by a Rabbi Hirschberg. I have always wondered why they needed permission since he was 42 and she was 35 with a child. Traditionally, I would think she was a Gentile and he needed permission for the marriage or it was arranged. It is unknown. I appreciate the asst. although I still cannot say whether my tribe is Levite of Judah.

    • This is pure speculation but my guess would be she had been married before and the rabbi was confirming she had proper divorce records (a get). Or perhaps she converted to marry him and the Rabbi was confirming the conversion. Total speculation but it makes more sense than a rabbi OK-ing an intermarriage!

  22. Keltchner should also be included. My ancestory Michael Kelchner (descended from Kelchners in the Sinsheim area of Germany) fought in the Revolutionary War in the US. A very old Berks County Pennsylvania historical record identifes a group of local protestants (including the Kelchners) as being descended from Jews who had converted in Germany to Christianity and come to the US. One of Michael Kelchner’s direct male descendants recently had his Y chromosome mapped and he was Haplotype J, which bears out the correctness of the paper record. Please include Kelchner. Also, please include the Gottliebs (who became the Goodloves) in the US (again, some of my ancestors). They came from roughly the same area as Protestants, but again, one of their direct male descendants recently had his Y chromosome mapped and the DNA doesn’t lie.

    • Kelchner is the name of a family business in Dublin, Bucks County,PA (not all that far from Berks County) that makes condiments including tartar sauce and horseradish. I don’t think it is a business of Jewish origin, but the name is interesting, and they do suggest serving their beet horseradish with gefilte fish. http://www.kelchnershorseradish.com/

  23. My family of origin is Shuman. When I look it up I find that it could be German or Jewish (Ashkenazim). There is an old graveyard of my family in Maine with Jewish sounding first names, like Samuel. I am 60 years old. No one in my family has ever mentioned having Jewish ancestors so I have only questions. I wonder….Do you consider Shuman a Jewish name ? If so, could you tell me the meaning of the name? Thanks!

    • “Shuman” is a German name. A good example is the composer Robert Schumann, who was not Jewish. My guess is that it originally connoted someone who worked with shoes. Another version is “Shumacher” or “Schumacher” — “shoe maker.” Not a Jewish name by definition, but one which a Jew might have aquired.

      • judy shuman elispur - Reply

        We are of Shuman origin from the middle west – grandparents came over from Russia to the usa in early 1900’s
        yes to Jewish – living is Israel – of course
        Is there a connection?

    • My last name is Shuman and my dad’s side of the family (where the name comes from) is Jewish. His father was Bert Shuman from Boston and Bert’s dad was Abraham Shuman who immigrated to America from Kiev in 1919. If you want more info email me at matt.shuman@gmail.com. Best of luck.

  24. My name (‘Zegen’ in its original spelling) was selected by my forebear Reine Aron in Holland in 1811 at the behest of the Napoleonic name-assumption. It means ‘blessing’ in Dutch (and in its German form ‘Segen’, which latter is a township in, I believe, the Rhineland). It is possibly cognate with the name ‘Baruch’. It acquired an extra ‘e’ in England, whither my Dutch ancestors moved in the 1850s. However, the English are hostile to a soft vowel (‘e’) after a hard consonant (‘g’), so Zegen became Zeegan among certain branches of the family, perhaps by analogy with the Irish Keegan. I hold out for the ‘correct’ spelling, notwithstanding the extra ‘e’.
    I have reason to believe that the name was meaningful to my forebears before the name-adoption: it appears to be attached to the husband of Reine Aron, despite his having died (well) before 1811. His place of origin, transliterated into Dutch by officials as ‘Simjatens’, would probably have been a Polish stetl. According to the Yad Vashem site, a number of persons named ‘Zegen’/’Segen’, from Poland and Germany lost their lives in the Holocaust.

  25. Interesting and informative, however just one small correction. Immigration officials were not permitted to change anyone’s name, they had to use the name indicated on the ship’s log. The immigrant herself either changed the name prior to leaving Europe, of after arriving in US.

    • It may be true that immigration officers were not permitted to change names, nevertheless, there are so many stories of name changes that I think they did flout the regulations. My paternal grandmother was about ten years old when they came to this country (in the 1890’s) and always said that the family name was Potash but the immigration officer did not know how to spell it and did not understand them. He finally asked if they were Jewish. When they said yes, he wrote Cohen on all their papers and they used the name Cohen after that.

  26. achei muito interessante pois é muito comentado o fator de que sua familia possa ser origináriamente
    de judeus ou não.

  27. Inaccurate research and facts render this article unhelpful and misleading for those searching for information.

    So many errors. Words and names spelled incorrectly, and/or translated incorrectly.

    Another egregious error is that immigration inspectors did not change names. The author wrote, “…Jewish names changed or shortened by immigration inspectors.” Many people believe that names were changed by officials at Ellis Island; this is untrue. Immigrants had papers from their place of origin. The ship’s bursar recorded each passenger’s name on the the ship manifest.

    • not always true. in my grandfather’s case, the letters were misread and he did not bother to make the correction. therefore, the spelling for his name and his brother’s are quite different.

  28. I’d always understood that Friedman meant man of peace. I also was once told that the reason so many eastern european Jews took the name was that authorities prohibited names based on “shalom”. So Friedman and its various permutations (freedman, frydman, etc.) was a way to get around the prohibition. And explains why names such as Solomon are only found among German Jews.

    • My grandfather, whose birth surname was Sandack, changed his name while waiting in line after he got off the ship. He was asked what his name was, and he made an instant decision to take the first name of the guy in front of him as his last name. Thus, he became Harry Herman, instead of Harry Sandack. Actually, he chose Harry, too, since his given name was really Hersh. Two of his brothers, who followed him later on, used Herman, too. The youngest, who was the only one born in the U.S., kept the Sandack name, because the parents hadn’t changed theirs. This is not lore handed down, it came straight from grandpa to me.

      • This is an example of the immigrant changing their own name. Shana points out a misread name. I have no doubt these instances occurred, however, the scenario of immigration officials unilaterally changing immigrants’ names to Americanize them as they arrived is a myth. dn is correct that the immigrants’ names were written on the passenger manifest at the port of embarkation and that is the name written on their Certificate of Arrival (not always issued) and their name until if or when they decided to change it. Our ancestors wanted to be American and it was sometimes the heads of families that changed the name, but more often it was when the immigrant children grew up, they changed it as they truly felt American having grown up here. Many didn’t change it legally but adopted an American version/shortening of the family name.

        • I believe, too, that sandack is related to “sondek,” which is sort of the godfather, but really the man chosen to hold the male baby at the bris. We’re probably related to the late Maurice Sendak, whom I had always meant to contact, but never got around to it.

    • My paternal great grandfather was “Solomonovitch,” from a small town in Russia. The story goes that at Ellis Island, before he had a chance even to kiss the ground, he had to choose a name that was suggested by the immigration personnel — either Solomon or Sullivan. He chose the former!

      OTOH, my paternal grandmother was born in a small village near Krakow, in what was then Austria. Her brothers took their father’s last name of Farber and the sisters took their mother’s last name, Wachsburg.

      My cousin has been able to trace my paternal family from a ketubah in Russia to entry into the US. He could not find my paternal grandmother’s entry, however. While at the National Archives in Washington, DC earlier this year, I was able to track my grandmother’s arrival. Despite the insistence of the assistant helping me in this task that sisters and brothers taking different last names from their parents, however, we found Grandma entering the country as “Wachsburg” and not “Farber!” “Bubbemeintze” and history were
      both resolved.

    • Sorry, but the Solomon surname is also found among Russian Jews. My Solomons came from what today is western Ukraine. My paternal grandfather was born in Kyivskaya Guberniya, Russian Empire. Ship’s manifests for him, his siblings, and their parents show the family name was Solomon when they emigrated.

  29. I’ve read this article on the edge of my seat. It was very interesting. Sadly I couldn’t find the origin of Slitinsky. I have been looking for it for a long time. The last known location of my Jewish family named Slitinsky was Kremanchuk in the Ukraïne. And in Jewish burial records I have found a Slitinskaya buried in Vilna. Slitinsky sounds Polish in origin because of the -Ski, but because of the Jewish pale they could have settled everywhere from Vilna to Odessa. I don’t think Slitin was a shtetl, because if so, occurances of the name are rare.

    If anybody knows more, please let me know! jonathanslitinsky@gmail.com

    • I believe for the most part “sky” indicates Russian origin and “ski” is Polish. But you bring up a good point that with the Pale, a family could originated one place and subsequent generations were in another.

  30. The suffixes “witz,” “vitz,” “vich,” “vic,” etc., meaning “son of” in Slavic, Russian and Yiddish, appears as the prefix “fitz” in Celtic/Gaelic, another branch of the same Indo-European language family from which Slavic and Russian come. Thus, “Fitzgerald” means “son of Gerald;” and so on.

    • A tv program focused on genealogy has suggested that some prefixes to surnames may identify the legitimate and illegitimate status of the child… in which countries is this likely to be a common style of naming? and which prefixes? Thanks.

      • Debbie, among Jews, having unmarried parents is not a good thing, but it has no effect on the status of the child. It doesn’t make hir illegitimate in any way. OTOH, if it occurs, the child of adultery by a woman or of incest is a mamzer. Was the tv program’s statement about Jews? I’ll bet not. I can’t imagine that any Jew advertised this by giving a special name to the child. Much more likely anyone who knew would lie to keep it a secret.

      • I have my great-grandmother’s birth certificate that states that she was illegitimate. I was told that she was illegitimate according to the national government because they did not allow Jews to marry, but of course the parents were married in a synagogue.

        • Perfectly legitimate to the Jews as the parents were married by a rabbi.
          Illegitimate, according to the Anti-Semitic authorities because they chose to be married by their rabbi and not one approved by the state!

          • Sorry, “vicci” is Italian, “[o]vici/[e]vici” is the Romanian equivalent of “ovic/evic,” “ovitz/evitz,” “ovich/evich,” and so on; all of these meaning “son of.” Ironically, despite the Italian spelling of her surname Andrea Marcovicci is of Romanian ancestry on her father’s side. I believe the spelling of her name was changed, though.

      • Macey, a lot of information are on the website http://www.geocities.ws/maymiperez/
        I am looking for any information about the last name Maimind or Maymind (with -d at the end), which I traced to Latvia (Rezekne) in the middle of 19th century.
        One version is that maimi comes from Hebrew “mayim” – water
        Any information will be appreciated.
        PS I would like to believe that Maimonides – Rambam is my ggggggg…father ;)

  31. Anyone who is interested in learning the origin of their surname can contact Beit Hatfutsot in Israel who will research it and provide you with the results for free just by completing this form: http://www.bh.org.il/database-search-order.aspx?database-familynames I did it for my name which appears in this article but is missing important details. In my case, the name means one thing when used as a given name and another thing when used as a surname, which this article neglects to mention. But it is a good albeit abridged effort.

    • David, thanks for the link! I immediately took advantage of it. My dad’s family, the Rands, lived in Galicia, Poland, before immigrating to the US, and there were so many of us that I have trouble believing the short, English-sounding name was the result of a bureaucrat at Ellis Island. Maybe the museum can shed some light; I could never get a straight answer from my grandparents.

      • Yes, Larry, my grandmother was Mollie Rand from same area, and my father efrom Youngstein never did tell me how Rand came into being. I believe we may be related. Who was your Rand parent/grandparent?

    • Many thanks for this lead. I have wondered at the origins of great grandparents whose American name was Kroch, spelled closer to Krauts on gravestone (my best guess at the Hebrew lettering).. which perhaps may also have been a ‘forced’ spelling, to represent the spoken name. And the town name on their transport/entry docs identify a place I couldn’t nail down. B Htf would probably be a good start for clarification of both!

  32. If Ashkenazi jews didn’t have a family name all these years. And they took it from their father’s name or their mothers or their profession or the town they came from etc…….How they can claim the name Cohen or Levy. It is very hard for me to accept it. Which will leave only the sephardic jews to be the original Cohen or Levy.

    • My last name isn’t Jew but I know I’m Jewish. I’d imagine the status was still passed down even if the name wasn’t. Remember there are rules and responsibilities associated with the status so you’d know if you were part of it.

    • Also remember the last name wouldn’t have been attached to the status until people started taking last names in the first place. It wasn’t a family name – it was a title. I’m sure the original kohanim didn’t even have last names.

    • Mati, Ashkenazi Jews, like Sefardim and Mizrachim, who descended from cohanim or leviim largely knew of their descent, which was (and is) still significant for religious practice. Long before the Ashkenazim were compelled to take surnames, if Moshe ben Shmuel was a cohane, he was known as Moshe ben Schmuel ha chohane. If he were a levy, he’d be known as Moshe ben Shmuel ha levy. When Jews were compelled to take surnames, many cohanim and leviim simply took these titles.

  33. With an unusual last name of S (Z)ankel I have been led to believe sank is sanctuary and “el” is ly which translates to saintly. Does anyone know more about this. (From Austria – Hungary.

  34. Pingback: The Origins and Meanings of Ashkenazic Last Names | Judy Hansen Commentary

    • Hi G
      I, too, am in that family tree. Try contacting Stuart LeVine for more info! His contact information is at the end of the tree page.

      • Hi M,

        Hello…cousin? I know Stuart quite well – first met him through tree page and now live in Israel, quite close to his house. Never got explanation about last name origins however, very unusual name (as I am sure you know).

  35. I only researched the most common Ashkenazic last names. I do not claim to be a scholar in this field. I apparently made some mistakes and I thank those who have pointed them out.

    I hope that on balance I have made a useful contribution.

    • I wish commenters would be less critical and appreciate what you have done. In that light, you missed a whole lot of Siegle’s.

      • Schaeffer, the brand name of some fine American pens, may be related to scribe, as you’ve stated. More likely, it is shepherd — quite a different occupation.

        Also, Rosenfeld is a town in the southwest of Germany.

        Does Krinsky perhaps come from Krimskaya, a resort town in the Crimea?

    • Very interesting. But why haven’t you corrected the mistakes others have pointed out?

      A few people have pointed out that Kagan is the Russian form of Kahan, which is an alternate spelling of Cohen. It has no relation to Khazars – people weren’t particularly concerned with Khazars at the time. You should correct that.

    • I understand you are not a “scholar in this field.” Why not, then, consult someone who is before publishing the article? Lars Menk, Alexander Beider, and others have devoted years of study to these name origins. I urge readers to consult their works for authoritative answers about their own surnames.

  36. I still am in the dark about my name “peresmik”. As far as I know the family came from somewhere in Russia……………does anyone have an idea about where my name comes from?

    • Yvette Peller Zamost - Reply

      My mother’s maiden name was BASS, my parents came from Manchester, England. My father’s name was originally Pellerovich.

      I would love to know the origin of the name.

    • Bass surname is really uncommon, but still a Jewish one. It is unreal to know it for sure without making genealogical research, but still there are some versions:
      1. Bass (in Russian transcription with one letter “s”) is an abbreviation for baal sgan (hebrew) – the person who led the affairs of the synagogue and was responsible for its condition.
      2. Bass is related to Yiddish and German word “bass”, which means that some of your ancestors had had a very low voice.
      For the first time “Bass” surname appears in 1620, Krakow, Poland. Later, the main branch of the family moved to the territories of today’s Lithuania and Belarus. In the XIX and XX centuries this surname occurred in different cities of Eastern Europe, such as Riga, Siauliai, Panevezys, Vilnius, Minsk, Byhov, Mogilev and Vitebsk.

      Shimon,
      Shoah Studies Coordinator,
      Minsk, Belarus

      • Greetings Shimon. I am interested in the migration of the Jewish Bass families to Tennessee. Do you know where I should start my research?

    • My Jewish grandfather was Emery Bass from Budapest, Hungary. The story we heard was that the family was “required” to take the last name of BASS but it was originally something else.

    • Hello to all Bass, I’m a descendant of BAS (BASS ?)as well. The names of my great grandparents on my mother’s side were Movasa (Moses/Moshe) and Taube BAS (BASS ?). They lived in NUZJEN (I’m not sure about the spelling …) a small farming community not far from the town Eisiskes (Eishishuk / Eishishok in Yiddish) today within the borders of Lithuania. In my family tree the BAS (BASS ?) appears in extensive. Despite searching, I could not find any of them; I guess many of them perished in the SHOAH. But I would hope that some of them survived. Does this story ring your bell? Can anyone interpret the name BAS / BASS. Thank you. Mary.

    • I’m the great great grandson of Maurice Hirsch Bass from Frankfurt am Main. He married Jukia Kahn and had five children but that’s all I know. Would be curious if anyone here is related or has information.

    • Hi All Bass’

      I am also a Bass. Our family came from Lithuania and then moved to South Africa in the early 1900’s, where the Bass family prospered. My immediate family moved to Sydney, Australia in 1998 and many Bass-lings (little Bass’) have been born here and continue the family name.

      Would be great to hear any more insights into the family name.

      Kind regards,
      Jonathan Bass
      Sydney, Australia

    • Hello Basses

      We are a large Bass family originally from Ukraine (via Lithuania maybe). Family moved to England and settled in Bethnal Green in London. They didn’t stay very long. Some went on to Australia others to South Africa. The census in the UK showed the family name as Bess. There are also Jewish Basserabie’s (we were never Basserabie) who shortened their names to Bass.

      • Hello Neil!

        I’m also a Bass, and From what my family members have told me, my Bass ancestors also came from Minsk, Belarus around the 1800s to the US.

        I’m very curious if that was the original last name or the name that was taken when they immigrated to the US (for my family at least).

    • Hi!
      My name is Sara-Rivka Bass and my father was of the Basses in CA USA. I don’t have any contact with them really because I live with my mom, but there is a significant contingent of basses out on the West Coast. I think my Grandfather’s family was Russian? Again I’m not 100% sure and it could be an ellis il. name change. VERY interested if anyone has any ideas!

  37. I thought this was a lovely and very useful piece. Etymology and nomenclature are among my hobbies, and I cannot say that I saw any significant number of errors, or particularly egregious ones.

    One name that you missed, though, is the last name of my best friend, Shub (which I have subsequently seen spelled Schub, Shoub, and Schube), prounounced “shoob,” which is a contraction of, or acronym for, “shochet u’bodek” (one who ritually slaughters and inspects meat for kashrut).

  38. Pingback: Ashkenazi Last Names - Religious Education Forum

  39. Shkoyekh. A very interesting piece!

    Just a little correction: Kagan has nothing to do with Khazars. It is a variant of Kahan (Cohen), reflecting the interchangeability of h/g (I think primarily in Ukrainian orthography, but I might be wrong).

  40. mary ann rosenfeld orndorf - Reply

    just curious about my maiden name of rosenfeld and at one time it was radnai….parents from hungary…my father was desederius…..

    • Usually Hungarian names that end in “i” refer to a location. Radna is a town in Slovenia (which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but overseen by the Hungarians), and a Radnai would be a person from Radna.

    • My paternal grandmother OBM was a Rosenfeld, first name Zelma, also from Hungary. She lived in Budapest. Sadly, I know nothing of her family.

    • I’m curious too. From the little I know, my father was born in Raseiniai, Lithuania, in 1877. On his marriage certificate, dated 1904 in London, to my 21 year old mother, Raie Cohen, his name is Joseff Rosenfield. His father’s name, Eleazar Rosenfield. There are countless names beginning with Rosen’ and
      ‘RosenFIELD could not have been my ol’ man’s original name. Any clues from the many other Rosenfields out there?

  41. Considered the most authoritative references on the etymology of Ashkenazi Jewish surnames are the volumes by Alexander Beider and published by Avotaynu (www.avotaynu.com) Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire, DIctionary of Jewish Surnames from the Kingdom of Poland, an Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia. His volumes also indicate in which districts the surnames were found.

  42. Ileane Grossman frank - Reply

    My husbands family surname in Eastern Europe was pronounced haas-ha-lovich. But he came to the USA and the surname became frank. No relation to any other franks out there except his sisters. Would you happen to know the spelling of the original surname? I wish to see if we can find any relatives out there. I believe if began with a “k”. However that could be a Russian letter “k”

  43. the Latin word, ” libertus” literally refers to a man who has won his freedom, a freed man, presumably from slavery or some form of servitude. I have always suspected this to be the origin of my family name.
    — Bazil Freedman

  44. Any info or relatives out there-
    Boruchow from a village near Chernobyl. Became Bornstein in Los Angeles
    Smilowich from the Carpathian mountain area became Smiler in New York and Minnesota.
    Gavrinski from Latvia/Estonia area became Gavren in Minnesota. Related to Gordimer in South Africa (author Nadine Gordimers husband).

    Feel free to contact me.
    Jamie Bornstein Corwin
    Jmcorwin@mac.com

  45. At the shul where I was barmitzvah there was a shammas called Mr.Fairfax, I wondered whether he was descended from one of Cromwell’s generals, but when the grown-ups were discussing the origins of his name, one said “Fairfax potz gefahren”.

    I don’t know where my own surname comes from, my paternal grandfather came from Warsaw, and died before I was born, my Dad thought it might have been shortened from something like Potinsky, but I have not come across that name. On the other hand I found out “Les Pottins”, sometimes with one ‘t’, sometimes that unusual (for French) two is a French word that originally meant herbs or other things added to flavour a stew, nowadays used to mean brief news items or bits of gossip in a magazine (cf English tit-bits). I also discovered a family called Pottins in Germany, we don’t know if we are related, or if they were ever Jewish, one of them says they hail from Koenigsberg where a lot of French Huguenots settled. I wonder was there any mixing between Jews and Huguenots?
    Lastly, I remember some years ago the Union of Jewish Students here had an officer called Fiona MacDonald, I just guessed her family had originally been Hamburgers.

    • …and, the best comment award goes to …Charlie Pottins … for ” I remember some years ago the Union of Jewish Students here had an officer called Fiona MacDonald, I just guessed her family had originally been Hamburgers.”

    • Dear Mr Pottins,

      May I answer to your request ? – If your time is short – just visit potten.jimdo.com under “Potin”. —
      To sum it all up – I studied our family history for more than 30 years. I remember a branch from Limburg, called Pottins in my files (without looking I say: 16th cent.) I have a personal connection with Judaism – see my website under “Life”, but in my research I only came across one Solomon Potyn in the 12th century. Nowadays you find some Jewish Pottins in the USA, as you already know, I think.
      Yours sincerely,
      Detlef Potten

  46. My mother´s family name was Mysznajes…Her coussins in Israel used the hebrew name Mishnaiot..all of them Cohanim…My grand father came from Lomza Shtetl of Goworovo…between Warsha and Bialistock.
    My Father name is from Lithuania..northern Lituania..Shtetl of Zagher.Gindel is from Chicken, Hind? I don´t think so beacause is with Gimal, not Het…Regards. You have more info about it?
    Regards

    • Hi Gavriel. First of all, I am no expert in these things. Merely a nerd who is interested in languages and Yidn.

      Was Gindel written that way in Yiddish too, or only in Slavic or Latin spelling? If it’s the latter, it might be a variant of Hinde, because h and g interchange in Slavic orthography. (See my comment above on the name Kagan…) But that would be odd in this case, because I don’t think it applies to Lithuanian. But Lithuania was once Russian territory, so it might be possible. If it is the case (and it might not be), the name could be derived from Hind (India), not “hin” (chicken). My grandfather’s twin sister was named Hinde, and she was known in Romanian as India. (Fyi, Hind – like the Yiddish Hinde – is not uncommon as a woman’s name in Arabic.)

      My guess though is that it might be a variant of Gundel, which is a pretty common name. That would be a little weird, because the [u] to [i] shift that took place in “Polish”/”Galitsyaner” (i.e. South Eastern) Yiddish didn’t take place in Lithuania. But weirder things have happened. I’d be open to other suggestions too.

      Btw I love Mysznajes! Both the name and the orthography. Also, the very fact of having Mishnayes as a name is wonderful. I come from a community where a lot of people spell their Germanic/Yiddish names with Polish conventions, and I’ve always found it delightful – it poses a special challenge to the monolingual Anglo-Saxon population. I’m sure that they get a good mental workout every time they try to pronounce one of those names…

  47. My maiden name was Leaman it was spelt Lehman. Any idea where this comes from my fathers’ family were from Odessa. My mothers family from Holland they were Levis but added the name Kruijer meaning porter. My grandmother from Poland/Russia area was Yacamovitch.

  48. How about my name, Bernstein. A rather common Jewish name not listed in the article. I was told it means “amber” in German. Is that correct? Or, as in Goldstein, does it refer to a jeweler working with amber?

    • That’s mine, too, and I’ve heard the same thing–and if you go to German-speaking countries, you’ll in fact pass amber and jewelry stores with your name plastered out front. Based on this article, I figure we’re either in the vocational or “fancy schmancy” category.

  49. Hi
    My Name is Nemko/The Family Came from Kiev Russia or Is it now Poland?Immigrated to The U.K
    My Greatgrandfather Was the Gabai Of The Misigudus London U.K Synagouge
    He then Immigrated to The USA in 1920,s Taking His Daughter with Him.Leaving His Son Abraham Back in the U.K The Gabais Daughter Sponsored me as a Teeanager to come to The USA
    Please Research the Name Nemko
    Thanks

  50. Hi Bennett Muraskin,

    I was wondering if you could help me find the origin or understand my family name (from home) – Kligman, It is uncommon and all I know is that it might say “smart-man” my father was born in Romania (Bucharest) but I have know recollection about his parents. My mothers maiden name is Hoffman (which I found in your article) ans my husbands name is Oxman which I also found (I guess we love the “man”s in our family :)) Thank you so much!!!

  51. B”H
    Gostaria de saber a origem do sobrenome Charchat(Harchat ou Charshat). Meus avós vieram de Balte, Bessarábia.
    Obrigada.

  52. One major group of names that seems to be missing is the color names! Schwartz=black, Weiss=white, Roth=red, Gelb=yellow, Green/Gruen=green, Blau=blue, Braun=brown.

  53. Our last name is quite unusual PRUPIS. we know that up until about 50 years ago, all Prupis men were Cohanim. And while there was a period of time where Prupis resided in Russia and Egypt, we can easily trace to the book publishers (using the Cohan hands as their name plate) in Amsterdam.

  54. What about the last name Osnovikov (Osnovikoff)? In Russian “ov” is the same “wich”, so the question is what “osnovik”means..

    • Hello, Sam.
      “-ik” is likely to be one of the few diminutive value suffixes, and “osnov-” seems to be the Russian root of words, with the meaning “basic, main”.

      Shimon,
      Shoah Studies Coordinator,
      Minsk, Belarus

  55. Much information can be found on Jewishgen.org. If you need expert advice to research your roots, contact your local Jewish Genealogy Society .
    Debbie Wang
    VP Programming
    Jewish Genealogy Society of Long Island
    JGSLI.org
    New York

  56. My wife’s maiden name was Umanksy. Her father’s family . She believes the family came from Minsk. Is there any help out there?

    My own surname is manufactured. My father’s father came to Newburyport, Mass. because a cousin was living there. They came from a Ukrainian shtetl, Anapol. They had the same name: Leib Woogmeister (Yehuda Leib ben–I don’t know.) The postmaster called them in and said he was getting their letters mixed up and one of them should change his name. My grandfather took Wagman. My father said one of his ancestors was a forest ranger under Catherine the Great. I have been told that the name Woogmeister means weighmaster.

    • Jules, it’s quite possible that your wife’s paternal line comes from Uman in the central Ukraine. Uman had large Jewish populations on and off (the “off” part the result of huge pogroms from the 17th to 19th centuries and, again, with the Nazi capture of the city during WWII) for hundreds of years. Reb Nachman of Breslov (the rebbe of the Breslover Hasidim) is buried there and it is a major pilgrimage site for both Hasidic Jews in general and Breslover Hasidim in particular.

    • We share a name, but mine is not so much manufactured as it was a mild Anglicization from Veygman. The original is unclear, but likely geographic. We have traced our ancestors back to the mid/late 1700’s in a Polish village called Bogoria.

  57. Eileen Krinsky Klein - Reply

    Eileen Krinsky Klein…..I know what my married name comes from and what it means (Klein)…I know my grandfather Krinsky came from Russia….but what does it mean ???

    • I’ve been trying to locate Krinsky ancestors; back to late 1890s. St. Paul, MN connection–Montreal, Quebec–NYC. Pritzker-Krinsky union–A cousin, William Krinsky. If you have any info, please advise. Another name to consider would be Yano/Yanovitch–another name would be Rudy. I’ve got bits and pieces but nothing substantial.

      • I just happened to stumble upon this; I thought I would mention that my cousin just married a Krinsky. I believe he’s originally from Vancouver. Let me know if you’d like to get in touch :)

  58. @Guest: the oldgermantranslations.com page is rather confused. For one thing, Austria didn’t do anything about surname adoption in Galicia (their part of Poland) until 1805, and at that time the choice of surnames was much less restricted.

    The same page leaps from 1787 to 1808, when Baden “followed Austria’s example.” Austria had nothing to do with it. Baden–and all German territory west of the Rhine, too–required Jewish surnames then because Napoleon was in charge and had ordered it.

    Nor did Prussia put restrictions on the types of names Jews could select. Surname adoption happened there in 1790-4 (Silesia), 1812 (most other eastern parts) and 1833-45 (the rest). In the meantime, parts of those territories had been occupied by Napoleon too, and many surnames there (western Germany, Posen and parts later in Russian Poland) come from that period.

  59. If I could just ask about your analysis of the name “Kagan”…. Most people with the last name Kagan are Kohanim. If they are Kohanim, they can’t be descended from Khazars. “Kagan” is the Russian version of “Kahan.”

    • My surname, Corets, was shortened by my grandfather from Coretzky. We are guessing that his family is from Koretz, but have no proof.

  60. Patronymics/matronymics are NOT “son/daughter of…”, but names based on the name of the father or mother, as in “paternal/maternal”. Your own examples show this: “Gold/Goldman/Gulden may derived from Golda; Malkov from Malke; Perlman — husband of Perl; Rivken — may derive from Rivke; Soronsohn—son of Sarah.”

    In traditional Jewish naming we use matronymics when praying for someone who is seriously ill, e.g., “Avraham ben Devorah” or “Rachel bat Chaya”.¹

    Iceland still generally uses patronymics, and sometimes matronymics, instead of inherited family names: “The children of (married or unmarried) parents Jón Einarsson and Bryndís Atladóttir could be named Ólafur Jónsson and Katrín Jónsdóttir. With matronymics, the children in this example would be Ólafur Bryndísarson and Katrín Bryndísardóttir.”²

    Russian and other Eastern Slavic traditions use a patronymic as a middle name. “As an example, the patronymic name of Soviet leader Никита Сергеевич Хрущёв (Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev) indicates that his father was named Сергей (Sergey). […] A suffix (meaning either “son of” or “daughter of”) is added to the father’s given name—in modern times, males use -ович -ovich, while females use -овна -ovna.”³

    ¹ http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/761128/jewish/Why-Use-the-Mothers-Name-When-Praying-for-Someone.htm
    ² http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_name#Cultural_ramifications_.E2.80.93_how_to_address_people
    ³ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Slavic_naming_customs

  61. joel wolk (vilkomirsky) - Reply

    fascinating. what about wolk. I was told that the original name was wilkomirsky, which should be vilkomirsky with a ‘v’ for there is no ‘W’sound in Yiddish or Hebrew?

    • My mother’s family name was originally Wolkomirsky, meaning a man (-sky=son) from the town (mir) of Wolko in Russia. It was changed to Wolkomir after the Russian Revolution, after one Wolkomirsky brothers settled in New York and two others settled in Wisconsin. The W spelling is correct, but W was pronounced as V. It’s not a common name, so hello, cousin.

    • I am also from a Wilkomirsky family. It’s a city north of Vilna, Lithuania. V and W are are same letter (as are G and H in slavic place names and transliteration of Hebrew given names). Which city wre your family from?

  62. My maiden name is Wilensky. My dad was born in Russia, probably from Vilna. The name Weiss was not mentioned at all. Can you tell me anything about that name

  63. My maiden name is Holman, and my grandfather came from Kamen, a shtetl near Vitebsk, Russia. Some relatives think the name was different in Russia and have suggested Golman, but that’s the wrong direction for the H/G substitution. Several relatives came to America as Holmans, so it sees more plausible that was the name in Russia. There are many more non-Jewish Holmans from other parts of the world. I’m interested in its derivation of Holman as a Jewish surname.

  64. My mother’s name was Ravitz, which originally was Suravitz. Any information about this name would be appreciated. Also, how about my husband’s name, Yoken?

  65. Janet Sweed Weisberg - Reply

    My family’s name is Sweed, we believe shortened from Swedskoff. My grandparents came from Russia/Poland/Ukraine early 1900’s, but no one in my large family knows exactly where or what the name means. Where did Swedskoff originate?

  66. My boyfriend’s last name is Rutman. His family came to the US from Russia. His grandfather was a ragman. I wonder if Rutman refers to the vegetable …. Rutabaga. Maybe his family were farmers?

    • Rutman comes from Roth, Rothman .Hungarian jews took surnames of colours ( fekete = white , Farkas = black Roth =red ) or adopted german surnames as Roth

      • Because jewish people in Hungary spoke yiddish and this is almost German lot of Hungarian Jewish have German names. The historical Russia was named as Rutenia and it may be the origin of your boyfriend’s name.

  67. My maiden name is Heublum (pronounced “hoy-bloom”. The German translation I believe is wheat flower. Any other info would be greatly appreciated. Family was in Krakow, Poland but not too many survived WWII

  68. Is anyone able to tell me the derivation of the name Lazerovich? It was changed to Latch by some members of the family back in the 1920’s or 30’s… Romanian family origin..

  69. Hi everyone, This has been incredibly interesting. Maybe someone out there can help me. My father has traced our origins to St . Petersburg, Alsace Lorraine and Warsaw. My maiden name is Smith but my father thinks that originally it was Kushnersky (I am not completely sure of the spelling). There was also Polsky on his mother’s side. On my mother’s side the names were Fisher and Reiner. As far as we know, the records of all of my ancestors were destroyed during the 2 World Wars. My ancestors all came to America in the 1890’s through the 1900’s and settled in the Philadelphia area. I would love to be able to fill in the holes in our genealogy for him as well as my own children. Thank you for your help!

    • Bernstein may mean amber stone, but does that mean the name is that of a jeweler?

      I cannot say for certain.

      Maybe it was just a pleasant sounding name adopted for that reason.

  70. 1) Indig/Indyk. My research shows that this refers to India (in Polish and Ukrainian) and that it might mean Turkey (the bird) in Yiddish and Russian. Not exactly goose. I have always been interested in this name because it was my maternal grandmothers maiden name and I cant seem to figure out its derivation
    2) although Dreyfus does literally mean “third foot” I always read that this was not a reference to someone who walked with a cane, but instead, it was the fake foot on which a cobbler fabricated shoes. Therefore, Dreyfus likely referred to a cobbler/shoemaker, not a cripple

    • Re: 1) You are correct: “Indyk” actually means “turkey” (bird) in Polish, not “Goose;” a “goose” would be “gęś. ”
      The word “Indyk” itself comes from the word “India” as that is where Polish people thought the animal came from (whereas in English it’s “turkey” from Turkey the country, in a similar vein).

    • New York Times had a wonderful article about why we call the bird most eat on Thanksgiving a turkey. as i recall, the british developed an affinity for a particularly tasty bird which came from India, by way of Turkey. when the first English settlers arrived, they found a similar, but unrelated, bird which they enjoyed, and mistakenly called it a turkey. Linnaean taxonomy and genetic analysis were unknown, they simply made an honest mistake. but that is the source of the connection between the words turkey and indyk. all because of a silly bird.

  71. I found this extremely interesting. Any idea how my maiden name Goronovsky came about. My grandparents were from Poland and took boat to South Africa, when they landed could not speak English and who knows what the officials did to their names!!

    • GRNO Russian town- Goren could be a russian transfomation from Karnaim , meaning in hebrew ” horns ”
      Koren is also an ashkenaz surname

  72. Thank you for this informative article. Regarding Segal or Segall (a Romanian spelling variant), I have heard one other etymology: Segan Gadol L’kohanim (i.e.: SGL: great assistant to the priests); another etymology has suggested: Segan gadol ha-leviaya). That name was often given to a Levi who faithfully performed ritual tasks at the synagogue; Segal(l) would then replace the man’s original surname forever. The name Siegel or Siegal has an entirely different etymology. It comes from Latin “sigillum” meaning “seal” as in Sigillum civitatis novi eboraci, meaning the great seal of the city of New York. The Latin word was borrowed into German as “siegel” with the same meaning. Another variant of the name is “Siegelmacher” or Maker of Seals: the one who provided the aristrocracy with their official seals. Once again, thank you for all labors in bringing to light the meanings of so many Jewish surnames.

    • Jeff, among Jews, any spelling of your name is almost certainly a Levitical acronym. I know Segals, Siegels and Siegals, and all of them claim to be Leviim and come from the Pale of Settlement.

  73. Joel Peresmik
    Peresmik is shown on an ancestry chart done by my cousin whose last name was Perry. The line is Peresmik, Perry, Smith. There is a Joel, born Feb 17. Do you have a sister Vivian?
    I believe you would be a cousin to me. you can reach me at onenevadagirl@aol.com and I can go over the info.

  74. My grandfather came from the Ukraine with the name Kanun. I think maybe it could have come from chanun in Hebrew. Any ideas out there?
    Also, my married name is from Pinsk, Naiditch, meaning son of no one, as they were orphans, any other information?
    Goldie Naiditch

  75. In our family,the last name Pekarsky from Pekar, meaning baker. Was shortened by my grandfather to Peck for his dress making business. Diamond, on my mother’s side. My grandmother’s father’s family was allowed to live in St. Petersburg because of their useful trade: roofer. But I don’t know what their name was before it became Diamond in English. Someone in the family said they were expelled from Spain in 1492!

  76. This is very interesting! Thank you. However in the “INSULTING NAMES” section “Indyk” actually means “turkey” (bird) in Polish, not “Goose;” a “goose” would be “gęś. ”
    The word “Indyk” itself comes from the word “India” as that is where Polish people thought the animal came from (whereas in English it’s “turkey” from Turkey the country, in a similar vein).

  77. My family name is Seidel which I believe is German. However I found my Paternal Grandfather census records having him listed as coming from Belarus/Ukraine and Russia. I have heard my surname may have been Tsidel/Tzidel. Wondering what kind of name this is and what it is derived from.

  78. Both sides of my family came to America in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s from the area around Kiev. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Menin. My paternal grandfather’s last name was Timoner. Do you have any information about these 2 names? Thank you.

      • Philippe, if you understand the central theme of the article, it is absolutely incorrect that every ashkenazi word comes from a derivation of the hebrew. i’m fluent in hebrew, and some of your suggestions are simply grasping at straws. linguistics and etymology are serious fields, studied in universities. your grasping at thin air isn’t really helpful. for example, shimon was not the 8th child of jacob (shmoneh), and there’s also no relation to the number 8 and the hebrew word for fat/oil. and now some bible thumper will tell me the oil burned for 8 days, and the hidden references to hanukkah are sprinkled throughout the torah.

    • Hi Doris. The name Menin means “peaceful, or quietude”. The Menins hailed from what is now Belarus in the area around Minsk. My grandfather, George Menin, left mother Russia from Dneprepetrovsk where he was a student but came from the Minsk area. Was your grandmother’s name Ite, or Ida, per chance? I have a lot of information on the family. Please contact me.

    • Hello again Doris
      Your grandmother was Kate Menin, daughter of David and Frieda Jacobs. She was one of four siblings, children of Abraham(?). They are related to people living in colorado and L.A..

  79. I’m not sure you are correct that girls were named after their mother (“Sora bas Rifke”). I think they were named after the father. As tradition has it, the mother’s name is used for certain purposes (such as prayer for the sick). In those instances even a man would be named after his mother (e.g. Moshe ben Sora).

  80. Our family Laqueur has been thought to be The Heart until some research makes us think it has to do with lacquer which is used in furniture making. Our Israeli family turned it into Bar-Lev, but now wonder if that’s right? Any thoughts?
    Also, my name being Luft clearly meaning air is thought to have no Jewish connections. Any thoughts there?

    • Jews in eastern europe were busy in very fragile jobs, water peddler etc…so they were nicknamed ” luftmenschen ” = people who could be wiped out , disappear like air.

  81. Thanks for the article! A friend who speaks Russian and Ukranian confirmed another one for me: “Venger” or “Fenger” means “Hungarian” in Russian, indicating that my family probably was from Hungary at one point or another.

    The mysteries for me are “Oseroff” and “Pinkevich” – both have the -ov, and -wich endings, but I’ve never heard of the name “Oser” or “Pinke.” Are those first names? Place names?

    • “Pinke” is probably a derivative of the Hebrew name Pinchas. I’m not sure about Oser, but I have definitely heard “Isseroff,” meaning son of Isser. I wonder if Oser is related?

  82. Jewish last names with Slavic roots would be properly suffixed with -vich, not -wich or -witz.

    -witz is more of an Americanisation

  83. My mother’s parents were from Germany – Baum
    My Father’s parent’s from Russia Hindin Someone once told me that Hindin could be how they spelled their last name in Hebrew at Ellis Island and so it became Hindin???

  84. Hi, Thanks for posting this article.
    Would you have access to any information as to the origin of the surname Lampert? (Lithuania/ Poland)
    Thanks.

  85. Absolutely fascinating. I know you can’t mention everything but how about Tis(h)man from Lithuania or Cooper possibly Kuper or Cohen from Vilnius or my own name

    Janet Girsman thought to have been Hirshel but H pronounced G and altered by immigration official about 120 years ago.

  86. Hi, Gordon, My grandfather was from Besagula in Lithuania. His last name was Baruchowicz. When he was naturalized in the United States, the judge told him you would not want such a foreign name in this country. So he suggested Berger and that is what the name became. I wonder if …?

  87. many of these ashkenazic name have the original hebrew embedded with a slavic suffix. gid (gid gitten gidnan) = goat,
    ben hur , horowitz gurowitz = son of hur (pure),
    levitz = holy levi,
    katz = holy cohen
    kravitz = holy warrior,
    gevertz = holy hero
    chait (chiat) = tailor
    shapiro (sofer, counter) = accountant
    malki = my angel
    shira = song
    edel = gods witness
    caleb kelev = dog
    barak = thunder

    and on and on

  88. Where Does the name Liverant or Liwerant come from? They were from Poland, but it doesn’t sound like a Polish name and it’s a pretty rare name. I tried looking it up but couldn’t really find info.
    Thanks

    • It wasn’t always a rare name. My family came from Siedlce, Poland and there were a number of Liwerants in Poland in the 19th century. I don’t know for sure what it means, but was always told it had to do with horses.

    • L.
      Part of my family is Liverant from Somolvola Eastern Poland. Since the 1900’s we have spread from Poland to Canada, Mexico, Israel and US. I was told Liverant has to do with livery/horses. Are we related, and where are you located?
      Marc Weisberg, Philadelphia

  89. My family came from around Vilna, Lithuania. The two family names I know are Ziplowich (maternal great-grandfather) and Ihilchik (maternal great-grandmother’s family name, changed to Goldberg at Ellis Island). Any ideas as to the origin or meaning of either of these names?

    Thanks so much! Very interesting article and I know many of those name, all Jewish in one way or the other!

    Thanks,
    -Wendy

  90. I found that there is an Austrian village, southeast of Prague, on the map called Pillersdorf. I often wondered about my name. When I saw this village on mapquest in the 1990s, there were 3 streets crossing to form a triangle. Each street was called Pillersdorfstrasse. Now, on Google Maps I see lots of intersecting streets with the name Pillersdorf, near Zellerndorf, Austria. “dorf” suffex on a name is the same as “vill” in English, as in Webberville, Fowlerville, etc. connoting “village.” I read there was a 1700’s Pillersdorf who wrote law in Austria.

  91. Any understanding of where Goychman (Ukraine), Hodes or Hodoshevitz (Lithuania), Gutman (Ukraine) are derived? Thank you for your help.

  92. Hi! My maternal grandmother’s last name was “Porec”. She thinks her father was a tailor from France. I have not come across this last name anywhere. Any insights you may have?

  93. Another missed occupation name (likely) is my maiden name: Sackin, meaning knife in Hebrew. I believe my family came from Lithuania but I do not know that for certain.

  94. Braslafski (not sure of spelling) was my late paternal grandfather’s name. It was changed to braudo when he arrived in South Africa from Lithuania around 1900. Braudo was his wife’s maiden name. Any ideas on what these two names mean and their origins would be appreciated.

  95. Sei, há muitos anos, que o meu sobrenome, BECKER, significa padeiro – Baker em inglês,
    e Becker em alemão.

    Até que, há alguns anos, descobri que o nome, além de assinalar uma profissão -vem da abreviatura de 3 letras hebraicas, Bet, Kuf e Reish, isto é, B.K.R.

    E o que significa esta abreviatura ? Bnei Kdushei Rabanim, isto é, Filhos de Sagrados Rabinos !
    Quando eu comuniquei o assunto aos meus parentes, eles se alegraram, com eu, com a notícia !

    Em hebraico, o nome é traduzido como Baruch, que significa Abençoado. E em françês, Becker é
    traduzido como Becquerel. Realmente – BECKER é um sobre-nome muito especial ! (:

  96. Does anyone know about the surname of Diner? My family came from a Shtetl in Lithuania called Suwalki. I think this town is now in Poland now. My Mother’s family changed the name to Daener when they came to the U.S. at the turn of the century. You can send any information to me at imasabra@gmail.com. Thank you.

    • I thought Suwalk was a region – my great grandfather and his brothers listed that as the place of their births on their WW2 draft registrations (though they were supposedly born in Vilna).

  97. Check MATRONYMICS !! If the author knew Yiddish, Hebrew and ENGLISH then the article would be very different. This is is good example of how much incompetence and garbage is on internet.

  98. Perhaps someone can correct me: I was always under the impression Shapiro was a modification of the jewel SAPHIRE, I am interested to read it derives from the German town of Speyer. Is this correct?

  99. Before I get to my own surname, a few comments:

    Soronsohn: Could also be a germanicization of Sorensen, Nordic for “son of Soren.” Incidentally, Ted Sorensen’s mother was Jewish nut that’s another topic for another day.

    Springer: Also Polish for knight (szpringer)

    Tatar: Yes, Leon Levitt, I knew a Greg Tartar from Pittsburgh and a Tator family from Toronto

    Wigutow: Likely the same as Vigoda. Krieger is also German for “warrior”

    Vernik: If it helps, I know a Jewish family in Houston named Wernick and their origins are Ukrainian. I think the original spelling was Vernik.

    Lowe: Among Alsatian Jews, the surname was inverted as Weil

    Fairfax: Charlie Pottins, are you from Los Angeles? Fairfax Avenue is a major street that bisected the predominantly Jewish area of the city and Fairfax High School in the area was predominantly Jewish during the interwar period. There are still fair number of Jews (mainly Orthodox) who live in the area today.

    Barris: One of my cousins married a Barris and her maiden name was originally Borisofski. To the best of my knowledge, she was unrelated to Chuck of Gong Show fame.

    Now for my own surname. It ties in with the discussion by Mati, Shira, and others about priestly last names. Our surname actually predated Jewish emancipation in Europe. Though it was more of a suffix than a surname. Kates was anglicised from Katz which for our family was an acronym for “kohen tzadik,” Hebrew for “righteous priest.”

    To identify men for aliyot in prayer services (as they all would have been at that time), Kohanim would have been identified as “ha Kohen” and Leviim as “ha Levi.” By contrast, Israelites were not identified as “ha Israel.” This often formed the basis for surnames but not necessarily. Not all Cohens are Kohanim while most Rapoports are.

    We were Kohanim and in pre-emancipation Austria where we were from, a name would have been inscribed as Aharon ben Avraham ha Kohen K”Z. That’s where the Katz comes from.

    So does this mean there is a distinction between Katz and Cohen for prayer services? Only in terms of ethnic origin. Kohen Tzadic was actually a Spanish derivation. The Sephardic Jews did have last names and after the explusion of non-Catholics in 1492, Jews named Kohen Tzadic who fled to Germanic lands took their surname with them. Overtime it became abbreviated. My research in the area is not systematic but I understand the “Kohen gene” to be common among Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews alike.

    My grandfather and his three brothers settled in New York and Toronto. Two of the four became Kates, including my grandfather. He owned a grocery store in a predominantly Slavic neighbourhood of Toronto in the 1930s and as he used to tell the story, “it was cheaper to change the sign than to change the windows.”

    Meanwhile, my mother’s maiden name was Wagman. It is often mistaken as a misspelling of the German “Wegman,” which means “pirate.” The surname was actually the same as Bachmann but written in the Yiddish alphabet: vet-gimel-mem-nun. Bachmann is German for “brook man” or “irrigator,” and while some Bachmanns became Wagmans, others no doubt became Brooks.

    Not Mel – his real name is Kaminsky.

  100. My last name Prottas was originally Protas and my grandfather came from Minsk. However this was part of the Pale of Settlement where Jews were forced to live from other places. I wonder if my family originated in Lithuania or Odessa or? Any ideas? Protas means “first” I believe in Russian. There was also a princess Protasov & I wonder if this is a relation?

  101. Our name was originally Pomerantz – so I assumed my ancestors came from the Pomerania region. But a Sephardic friend told me the name also means ‘oranges’ in Ladino, indicating we might have been part of the small group of Sefardim that went from Spain to Russia during the 1492 expulsion. Any thoughts?

    • Kathryn – I have heard the same about Pomerantz & Pomeranz (somewhere along the line, my ancestors dropped the “t”) being originally Sephardic. I have never had any confirmation of that, so it would be nice to hear it from someone definitively, especially since I have no family records prior to information about my great grandfather, who lived in Bukovina and was called “Natan of Pokrowitz” and might not have, then, had a family name at all!
      When I was growing up in central North Carolina, some friends made fun of the name, calling us “Pomegranate” – but I didn’t know, at the time, what an honor that was! Since I live in Israel, I have often thought of changing my name to Shoshannah Rimon (rimon being the Hebrew for pomegranate, of course), though probably won’t do it officially. I might, however, use it as a “pen name”!

  102. Interesting. Some I know are incorrect it missing information. Kagan is an anglicized pronunciation of kahan meaning cohen. Kagans are usually assumed to be or come from cohanim.
    Also, there’s an old saying that Hungarian Jews are shapes and colors. Eg. gelb klein gross. You didn’t go into the origin of these names.

  103. My last name is Sullivan…since there are so many of us around the world…I think the etymological origins must mean “procreative”…or at least it should be ….lol ;-)

  104. I’m trying to find the place and family connected to my last name, Britany which was Britaniski (or Britanisky) from Lituania. Any ideas? My grandparents Yankel and Nechal married and left for Palestine in 1932.

  105. CAN YOU PLEASE TELL ME WHERE OR WHAT IS THE ORIGINAL OF MY LAST NAME : BURSTEIN ?
    I KNOW THAT MY GRANDPARENTS ARE FROM BATOSH, POLAND.
    THANKS : HADASSAH.

  106. My last name, Geballe, is known to have been chosen in about 1795 by an ancestor who lived in or near Ritschenwalde (in the Prussian province of Posen) in what is now Poland. Prior to that this ancestor is believed to have used the name Catz. The name Geballe has survived to the present without alteration. None of us Geballes know what the name means. Does anyone have any idea(s)?

  107. My family originate from Latvia (Dvinsk as was). Our surname is as far as we know confined to our family . All Hoffbrands we have located are related in whichever country..
    Does anyone know the origin of the name or any other family with the same surname?
    A.Victor Hoffbrand (professor)

  108. I’d welcome any insights you can provide into my unusual last name “Zang”. I’ve never run into any other American Jews with that name. My paternal grandfather came from Austria to New York. Apparently in Dutch, the word Zang means “song”. There was a famous British Zionist and playwright from the late 19th and early 20th century named Israel Zangwill; the piece above describes Zangwill as a translation of “Samuel” (which interestingly was in fact that grandfather’s first name.) Is Zang simply a shortening of Zangwill?

    I’ve also determined that there have been prominent Austrian Christians with the name “Zang” from the 18th and 19th century including a famous surgeon named Christoph and his son, an entrepreneur named August who introduced the croissant to Paris from Vienna! Wish I could lay claim to that…

  109. This looks very much like taken from Hanina Eshel`s book on names w/o mentioning him. I hope the distinguished author will look this up and gratify Eshel who did a truly fantastic study on jewish family names.

    • I do not recall consulting his book, but I did my research some time ago, so I cannot be certain. More likely some of my sources did.

      Bennett

    • Jonah, I grew up in an apartment house in Brooklyn with a few families name Steinhaus. This was at the end of the 40s and into the 50s and 60s. There was an apartment with the old man Steinhaus. He was probably in his late 60s or early 70s but as children we just called him old man Steinhaus and he had the eastern European accent most of the adults of that age had. My mother told me he was in the camps but as I was a child I never asked which camp she meant. In another apartment was his daughter Millie and her husband and young son Larry who would be about 62-63 now but I don’t remember Millie’s married name I have an older cousin who lived in the same apartment building and she may remember their last name.

  110. Years ago when the internet started, my son was looking for relatives around the world. He found a family with the same name as ours, but was told we were not related because their real name was totally different. One of their ancestors stole the passport of one of our ancestors on the ship coming over, and used our name to get into this country, the US.

  111. Gerald W. Shaftan M.D. - Reply

    My grandfather left Vitebst in 1896 and his name was the unjewish sounding Shaftan (some relatives, I presume, in the western US spell it Shafton). Even today Shaftan’s emigrate from Russia. I’m told that the name derives from judge in Russian. Any further thoughts.

    • Eppstein was a town in Germany.

      Epstein is one of the oldest Ashkenazic surnames.

      I do not have information on the other names.

      Bennett

    • My great aunt Esther Malka Pomerantz married Barnett (Bernard) Lifshitz. The next generation changed the name to Lieff – including their first-born who became Canada’s first Jewish Supreme Court Judge – The Honourale Abraham Lieff, born 1903, in Antopol, Russia (now Poland).

      • My father, Peter Lieff, son of Aaron Lieff who was a brother of Bernard, and thus a first cousin of Abe Lieff, the Canadian Judge, always told me that Antopol was located halfway between Minsk and Pinsk which I believe is in Belarus.

  112. Can anyone help? Supposedly, the name GIDDEN was always in our family. That is what my grandfather was told by his father and grandfather. His grandfather’s death certificate lists his father’s name as “Gedalia Gidden, but that was in the U.S. Gedalia would have been born around late 1700s or early 1800s in Galicia (now Poland) I believed Gidden might have been an anglicized version of that name. BUT—can’t find Gedalia’s in that part of Poland. Any other insights beside a a complete name change?

  113. Thank you for this. Maybe you can help answer a question that’s been troubling me for years: My father’s original last name was “Peterzayil” or “Peterzyl” or some variation thereof (transliterating from Hebrew). My paternal grandfather’s family was from Berlin. Any idea on the origin of the name?

    • Petersilie is the German word for parsley.

      There are similar sounding words in Latvian (pētersīļi, Hungarian (petrezselyem) that also mean parsley.

  114. Grandfather on my mother’s side. Name is Kelfer. He arrived in the US in 1898. Russian born in the area of White Russia. First of siblings to arrive. Cannot find any information, ie port of entry, city or town of birth, etc. There are many Kelfers in the US but not related. Any idea the meaning of Kelfer or derivation?

    • Marc, I tried to do research on your question, but I struck out. I wonder if it is a distortion of Kaufer, pronounced “Koifer” in Yiddish, which means a merchant.
      I was surprised that original article did not reference the sources of surnames for thousands and thousands of Hungarian Jews. The reference to fancy names was familiar to me. Those people who could afford to pay the authorities could get a “fancy name.” The government required people to have last names, this was about two hundred years ago. The language of the government was German (Austro-Hungarian Empire), so they gave Jews names in German. They thought it didn’t matter, so they registered people with various names in droves: Klein, Gross, Schwartz, Weiss, Dick, Dunn, for example. These are words in German. They could assign the name Klein for example to hundreds of families in a city, who were not related at all; to both the government and the local officials, it didn’t matter, they were just following the letter of the law.
      Be careful about identifying the origin of a name because it sounds like a word in the language of the country where the people lived. In general, Jews tended to have Jewish names, not names from the local language (I know there are exceptions). There are many names that end in -kin, which are matronymics, names that mean “child of —:” -kin comes from “kind,” or child. Thus, Sorkin, Baskin, Salkin, Rifkin, Malkin, Dvorkin. The root female names are usually Yiddish pronunciation of Hebrew names (e.g., Sorkin comes from Sorah, or Sarah in Yiddish pronunciation.

  115. The surname of my maternal line is Wein/Whine and variants, my great grandparents having emigrated to London from Vilna, Lithuania. The spelling varied even among siblings within the same family unit. Thus my mother was Wein but her sister, Whine.

  116. Given all the corrections/additions above (my favorite is Kagan as related to the Khazars, while anyone with the slightest knowledge of Russian knows t’ain’t so), I’ll desist from playing Bennett’s favorite game: gotcha!

    • Hi Hershl,

      I’m searching for a connection to my great-grandfather Rudolf Hartmann who was born in Berlin on 13 May 1874 and who died in Theresienstadt (Terezin) in 1942. I noticed your last name was Hartman and wondered if you have any connections to Berlin or not, my great grandfather had a son named Julian who did survive the war, I’m not sure if Julian lived in Germany or in Vienna Austria and I also don’t know if he had children or not.

      Greetings,

      Alexa DeVoe

  117. I am interested in the name Straka. It was my grandfaathers name and he came from Austria-Hungry. His first name was Ignatz. I think he was a sailor and jumped ship in America.

  118. I am privileged to have the very unusual last name of Chemel (pronounced Shemel) and I have no idea what it means. I believe it was changed from Tzemmel, but I’m not sure.Also, my grandmother’s maiden name is Lopian . Anyone know what these last names mean?

  119. Can’t find our family name here: Teichman/Teichmann. Thx for any help about the origin (I know what Teich and Mann mean but still I’d be happy to know a bit more about the origin and original meaning).
    Thx for any kind input!
    Best,
    Robert

  120. Really interesting! If somebody can help me to understand the origin or my family name, I´ll be very grateful! My grandfater´s original last name was Krim, he changed his id with a Mellicovsky that wanted to leave Argentina near to 1920, my grandmother´s last name was Konigsthal they were born in the Besarabia (now Ukraine, in those times in the Russian imperium, he was from Moguilev and she was from Proskurow), my grand grandparents (grandparents of my mother) were also from the white Russia, their family names were Gerber and Burdman – Again thanks a lot and wishes of a great 2014!

  121. SURNAME HOW FRUG ?
    My Familly root Frug ?
    -Frug-Fróg.Frug/Fróg surname in the Polish spelling written through at open” u” or “ó” is closed off in the process with surname, differently written Phroog/Frug/Fróg/Frog/-w was English, French, Фруг/-po Russian פרוג in a Hebrew manner surname Frug-w Latin written as the majority of west tongues not of which Slav, Frug/Fróg

  122. I haven’t come up with much trying to search for Dunn on my mother’s side or Kugal on my dad’s. Both families came here from the Polish Russian Border in the early 1900’s.

  123. I am told by a Russian Jewish friend of mine named Feinberg that the Russian authorities often assigned German last names to the Jews to differentiate them from “real” Russians.

  124. My family name, “Wanderman”, doesn’t seem to fit into any of the given categories (it is not derived from the name of a town, is not an occupation, etc.). I know it goes back (at least) to my great great grandfather who lived in the town of Plonsk, Poland. Could it represent the “wandering Jew”? Any comments from anybody?

    • Shifrel sounds like a diminuitive of Shifrah, which is a Hebrew female name, with the “-el” that would mean little or young.

  125. I’m curious about my family name “Finkle” — unshortened so far as I have been able to research.
    The translations I’ve seen have been “Flint”, “Sparkle” or “Spark” — “Finkelstein” would be “Flintstone”.
    It seems that the translation of Finkle to “Finch” is less likely, as it’s usually an English, not German word.
    I have ancestors (and cousins) named “Blitstein” which seems that it could be derived from “Blitz” or “Lightning”. My guess is that either it was a flinty hill where they lived, or there were traders in flint.

    I had also seen elsewhere that the animal names (Eselkopf was the example given), as well as other things such as “Eckhouse” (corner house) may derive from the name of the inn where they resided. That seems more likely than a general mean-spiritedness.

    • hi there- it’s been a while since you wrote this but I’d love to talk with you about our family name. I’m Jordan Fink, but my grandfather was Isadore Finkelstein. Finkelstein is very much about pyrite or flintstone but there are older ideas around it, too.

  126. Very nice article. But not sure i would agree to the explanation of the name “Levinsky”: “[…]-sky” (or “-ski”) means “from […]” in several Slavic languages (the are such examples in the “Places” section by the way: Berlinsky etc), and there are indeed towns called Levin.

  127. my mother’s maiden name is Kamil and her first name is Yentl. Family lore says this is of french origin – i.e. Camille and gentle. Any thoughts?

  128. My last name is not a common Jewish name, but there are many Borts/Bortz (whatever the plural is) around nonetheless. My grandfather was born in Ukraine (Donetsk), where all the Borts seem to originate in the last century or so. Some were found in Riga, Latvia. There are many Borts/Bortz in the US, but the are Dutch in origin. Any ideas are greatly appreciated!

  129. Fascinating article. I’ve long wondered where my last name comes from. My family discovered a couple years ago a town or county, maybe, if Germany named “Golbitz,” but we’ve been unable to uncover much information about it. We don’t know if our name comes from the town or if the town name comes from an ancestor.

    If anyone has any ideas on where to look for more info, we’d welcome the assistance.

  130. There are a great many Propp relatives in the US. My Grandfather Peter Propp came from Kaliningrad. On my mother’s side, my grandmother married into the Stern family. They were from Alsace-Lorraine. Does anyone know the origin of either Propp or Stern?

  131. There are a great many Propp relatives in the US. My Grandfather Peter Propp came from Kaliningrad. On my mother’s side, my grandmother married into the Stern family. They were from Alsace-Lorraine. Does anyone know the origin of either Propp or Stern?

  132. Father -Legumsky came to US from Swenshany Lithuania (Russia) in 1901
    Mother-Kroop came to US from the shtetl of Mortinus Latvia (Russia) in 1910
    Her mother’s maiden name Shway many relatives is US & So Africa
    Any info on these would be appreciated!

  133. Apparently the first ancestor of mine to use my last name changed it from Meisels after escaping a blood libel in Poland. Someone suggested it was a sly hint as to the reason he escaped (rose water, i.e. red water) … but why he would want to drop hints as to his new location, I don’t know.

  134. Any other Kirschner relatives out there with furriers somewhere in the family? According to one family story, my great or great-great grandparents, possibly Kurzner, were, indeed, furriers.

  135. I’d like to get a print version of this to send to my mom who’s 86 and isn’t online. Anyone know how I can get a PDF of this article?

  136. Any insight on the surname Zeltser. I know it was originally Seltzer but was changed in the mid 1900’s. We are originally from L’vov and Poland.

  137. Any thoughts on the origin of the surname Siegeltuch? I believe it is German for sailcloth, though my father’s family is Polish.

  138. Por parte de minha mãe eu sou Lafite, que foi a família lefeto, que fugiu da Espanha, foi para o sul da França e passou a chamar-se Lafite, Dela saiu Jean Lafite, que não era pirata e sim um corsário a serviço da França e da Holanda.
    Por parte de pai eu sou Castanho, também judeus de origem espanhola, que vieram para o Brasil com a invasão holandesa. Eles fundaram a primeira sinagoga das Américas. Isaac Castanho, com o rabino Aboab subscreveram a ata de sua fundação. Hoje eu sou um judeu retornado.

  139. hello
    I would appreciate any help with Chmelnitsky as a surname. I know there was a pogrom leader of that name so don’t understand how it becae our family name. I have surmised it was foisted into us as a bad joke but would appreciate a more scholarly interpretation

    thanks sally hyman

    • Sally, perhaps you should start with how the infamous Chmelnitsky got his name. he wasn’t born the anti-Semitic brutal cruel Cossack he became known as in Jewish history. In fact, some historians are suggesting that, while he was certainly anti-Semitic, hoping to rid the Ukraine of Jews entirely, the death and tragedies he and his army caused to Jews in Poland/Lithuanian towns and cities may have been exaggerated as eye-witness’s stories of the Ukrainian & Cossack brutalities spread throughout the Jewish world. Through his father, he was nobility, another reason to ask whether indeed he himself was guilty of the horrors an viciousness attributed to him. We don’t know but the fact is that he was joined by many peasants who hated Jews (because the Jews were forced to be the tax collectors for the noblemen) and their viciousness was easily fueled by the “Christ-killing” charges they repeatedly heard in church sermons .
      From Wikipedia: “A 2003 study by Israeli demographer Shaul Stampfer of Hebrew University dedicated solely to the issue of Jewish casualties in the uprising concludes that 18,000-20,000 Jews were killed out of a total population of 40,000. (That is considerably less than the figures of between 100,000 to half a million murdered that Jewish historians gave in the first half of the 20th century.) Paul Robert Magocsi states that Jewish chroniclers of the 17th century “provide invariably inflated figures with respect to the loss of life among the Jewish population of Ukraine.”
      I don’t for one moment make excuses for the brutality and horrific acts of anti-Semites, Khmelnytsky , the Ukrainians, the Russians, the Poles, the Lithuanians, etc. certainly included. Their brutality is well-known, sadly, from their incredibly vicious, overt and covert behavior during and immediately after the Holocaust. I am a rabbi and have been studying our history for half a century. And I believe our suffering was bad enough, especially in EAstern Europe (where my family comes from – Lithuania). We don’t need to add to our victimization if it was if indeed the number of Jewish innocent victims was fewer than we thought.
      In any case, you shouldn’t have trouble tracing his name. Even today he is a celebrated hero of the Ukrainians, not because of the Jews he massacred but because he led a rebellion that reultedf in breaking from Polish subjugation and in fact established the Ukraine as a separate country.
      In any case, try to trace the family name among Ukrainians. His full name was Bohdan Zynoviy Mykhailovych Khmelnytsky and he was born in Subotiv.

    • My great-great Grandfather, Wolff Hyman, came from Schwersenz, Kingdom of Prussia (now Poland). His son, my great-grandfather, was Hyman Wolff Hyman. I didn’t see anything like Hyman in this discussion. Does anyone have any ideas as to its origin (and probably Heyman, Heimann, Heiman, etc.)?

  140. My maiden name was Nordell, an anglicized version of Nudel, my grandfather’s occupation in Russia. He, on the other hand, had chosen Goldstein upon arriving in New York, a name a far away as he could think from his Russian shtetl origins. Family lore says that to him it spoke of culture and worldliness. My father’s family found the name a hindrance in the depression – no one would give a Goldstein a job. For years we knew of no other Nordells in New York until another family, not related to us showed up in Brooklyn, with a daughter who was just a year behind me in school. We must have gotten each other’s mail several times. Then, much to our surprise, the name is actually very common in Scandinavian countries. Completely unrelated to us and quite a shock to find out that the name my father’s family made up is a real one. And so it goes. One can never really know how a name came into being at least among us, without actually asking the first ancestor who used it.

  141. I think ours is one of the “insulting” names. It is German for “self” and perhaps our ancestor was considered, er, rather full of himself. Possibly. Who knows.

  142. Here is a song a wrote a few years ago about Jewish Names:
    Namen
    by Corey Weinstein
    Yiddish by Audrey Goodfriend
    VERSE 1A
    Namen, Namen, oi vai 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.

    VERSE 2A
    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 – 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.

    VERSE 1B
    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.

    VERSE 2B
    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-Yiddish
    Zeinen gekoomen die Preissen, gevult alle shteiern.
    Nacher die Roosen, boyen armayin.
    Aff die groyse bicher, gevurren uffitsiel.
    Achtsen yar hundert prubirt der tam foon sam.

    VERSE 1C
    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.

    VERSE 2C
    Katz and Cohn and Kahn and Kaplan all came from the priestly class.
    Levy, Levin, Segal, Chagall were their temple help, alas.
    Klein meant small and Lustig happy, Kurtz was short and Baruch blessed.
    Scher a tailor, Gerber tanner, Kramer merchant, to the last.

    CHORUS – E

    VERSE 1D
    Don’t hak me a tsheinik will you, namen ach oi vai iz mir.
    I’m a bisel 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.

    VERSE 2D
    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 – Y

  143. My last name is November, and I was told by my father that it was a completely random choice — “It’s November. You over there? You’re the Novembers.” Works for me.

  144. Names of my mothers side are Victorvitch and Koshansky, shortened to Victor and Koster. Anyone hazard a guess as to the origins of these names? The Victors were from the Minsk area, Kosters from Vilna and Ivie.

    • My family aren’t quite sure what our last name was before the war and I’ve always wanted to find out. There was some speculation that it was Victorvitch (or similar spelling) and they were from Odessa.

  145. Use of Alter or Chaim as a last name might have had influence other than the longevity of the person taking the name.

    Chaim and Alter are used as given names, coupled with a necronym, when the namesake died young. It was done to avert the evil eye.

    A run of poor fortune resulted in me having a great-grandfather Alter Chaim and another Chaim Alter.

    Those two names as family names might have been as much wishful thinking as the romantic names of the Austro-Hungarian Jews.

  146. My grandmother’s maiden name was Slowes, and her family was Ashkenazi. I looked it up, and there are some occurrences of other people with similar names (Slowes, Sloves, etc.) in Belarus, Ukraine, and Western Russia (although it is not common). This fascinates me, because the Russian word for slav is obviously “slav,” and the word for glory is “slava,” while the word for word is “slova”. I wonder if the name Slowes is a name for a writer, like “Wordsworth” or something of that nature. Really, I have no clue.

  147. Laskin is the surname of both of my parents (!) who were born in Minsk (Belarus) in 1895 and 1900 respectively. ‘Laskin’ is the spelling in the Ellis Island records. We believe the name refers to a village or place called :’Lask’. Is there any geographical record of such a village ?
    Thanks for any information.

    • As I wrote in another posting, names that end in “-kin” are often matronymics (derived from woman’s names). A quick search only yielded one possible origin: Lael, a Hebrew word that means belonging to God. Thus, the name Laskin could mean “the child of Lael.”

  148. My father’s family name was Jushpy. I don’t know where the family was from and never found a name even close to ours. If anyone has information, I’d be delighted to have it.

  149. My father’s family came to the US from Slovenia in the early 1900s. The family name was KRASOVEC, and while they were practicing Catholics I am wondering if it was originally a Jewish name?

  150. Have never been able to get at origin of our name. Many have suggested insulting type name meaning little bean, but others suggest Scandinavian source. Family came from ukraine

  151. Didn’t see any other Diamants in the comments. Good to know I have a “fancy-shmancy” name. My Diamants are most recently from what is now western Slovakia- Bratislava and Laksarska Nova Ves. Also Nussbaum, same area. Bockser and Hirsch on the other side, Russia/Transylvania.

  152. I only knew my mother’s side of the family. The family is from Lithuania. Diamond Is my GM last maiden name and Martin is GF last name. What could those names have been in their origin. I can’t seem to go back as I am not sure what their real or unedited names could have been.
    Thank you for any information.
    Sherry

    • Just curious: my surname is Green and my family (the Green side, anyway) came from Russia. When we got into the country our name was Greenberg, which we later shortened to Green. We’d always assumed it must have been something completely different in Russia, since Greenberg is a German-Jewish name. This is the first I’m hearing of “Krau”. What does it mean? Are you friends of or related to a family with that heritage?

  153. My unmarried name was Lewis but I was told it had been changed from Lapidus. My father was born in New York but his parents came from the old country — which old country I do not know — in the late 1800s. I’d love to learn where this name originated, what it means, and any other information on this subject. My former married name (and the name my children bear) is Brager, which I understand was not changed from the original. Any information about either of these names would be appreciated.

    • Hello Vicki,

      Could your BRAGER ancestors have come from Hamburg in Germany? Only yesterday, I discovered that one of my great-grandfather’s cousins, Marianne LEVY, married a Marcus BRAGER, son of Ahsur and Sara, in Hamburg in 1870. Marcus ran a glove business. He was no longer listed in the Hamburg Address Books after 1880.

      There are 25 BRAGER burials in the Ilandkoppel cemetery alone.

  154. My last name is Gallant. My father died when I was little and my mother has no knowledge of the origin of our last name or it’s meaning in terms of Judaism. Any clues?

    • Michael, there some Galante in the US originally from Lithuania. There is opera singer Inessa Galante from Riga, Latvia. I think she is now in Germany.

    • Michael–The name “Gallant” has a long and illustrious Jewish history, going back to 15th Century Spain, where it was spelled (and is sometimes currently spelled) “Galante”. (I cannot trace my lineage to that location, however. All I know is that my family came to the US from Ukraine.) I encourage you to check out JewishGen and try to explore your family history.

      You can read about it in the Encyclopedia Judaica, which is available for free online. http://www.bjeindy.org/resources/library/access-to-encyclopedia-judaica/.

      Here’s a quote:
      GALANTE, family of Spanish origin which produced a large number of scholars. An ancestor of the family was MORDECAI GALANTE, who was among the Spanish exiles of 1492 and lived in Rome during the first half of the 16th century, dying there after 1541. His original family name was Angello. Because of his handsome appearance and his dignified behavior he was nicknamed by the Roman nobility galant’ uomo, from which was derived the surname Galante adopted by his descendants.

      Good luck!

      • Sorry for the confusion…I was suggesting you look up “Galante” in Encyclopedia Judaica. There are a number of different entries.

  155. Was the name Ferguson given on arrival as a misinterpretation by immigration authorities when told “I For-gus-on” (meaning, when asked their last name they said they forget – I forget). Also what is the meaning of the name Fishler?

    • Yes. Shoyn fargesn (I forgot already) became Sean Ferguson. It is a hoary Jewish joke.

      Fishl is a Jewish name derived from Joseph’s son in the Bible Ephraim. Maybe that is a clue.

  156. i came across these articles about the origins by chance.i found them fascinating.iv’e been along time subscriber to j c. my last name kleinmuntz according to my brother the klein is obvious the last part he thinks is connectet to the city mainz in germany. my mothers name was kuflik no idea qf it’s origin.

  157. My grandmother’s maiden name sounds strange for being Jewish. it was pronounced “Zucees.” She was from Odessa and her Family business was some kind of import/export which provided a wealthy life for her. Any ideas of what this name comes from? Thanks Beth

  158. Hi, Jane. Sorry that is a rather bad joke. Been around for decades. Allegedly the immigrant who did not understand English said “shayn fergessen,” which is rather bad Yiddish for I completely don’t get it. Thus, the official gave him the name “Shawn Ferguson.” But I think this really originated as a “borscht belt” joke.

  159. Anybody know the origin of last name “Saft”? Relatives with that name emigrated from Belarus (I think) sometime between 1890 and 1900.

  160. Pingback: 12.29.13 Ashkenazic Family Names | Rabbi Eli Mallon, M.Ed., LMSW

  161. What a great discussion, and I was struck by how respectful it remains even when there’s disagreement!
    I love my last name, a name that my grandmother swore stayed the same when coming over from Russia. Lots of fun around Hanukkah!

  162. Katzenellenbogen is a place name referring to a sharp bend (elbow) in the river Katz, according to my father.

    I believe Getz derives from “ger tzedek” (righteous convert), not gabbai tzedek.

    My family’s names underwent a kind of alchemical transformation in the course of a couple of generations. The name was originally Eisen (from German, “Iron”). Some of the Eisens made aliya to Palestine and Hebraized their name to Barzilai (from Hebrew barzel, “iron”). Thereafter the family in Russia changed its name several times; each time there was a new conscription to the Tsar’s army, the family would purchase new identity papers to prove that their children were the wrong age or deceased. In the last of these changes the family acquired the name Pusin (probably a corruption of the Polish city name Posen). Some of the Pusins also made aliya, and Hebraized their name to Paz (“fine gold”). So the iron (Barzilai) had become fine gold (Paz)–alchemy!

  163. Bonnie Entin Perlman - Reply

    ENTIN, my maiden name comes from Russia., It does not sound Jewish, but is. I was told that the name was never changed. My sister found out that the translation is “yenta” and is a common name in Russia. Do you know anything more about the name, ENTIN?

    • Yenta is an old female jewish name, not used much anymore due to some comical connotation in popular culture. A lot of Ashkenazi names are “matronymic” – given after mothers of the family (not a common culture for russians but common for jews)

  164. The name “Rovner” is derived from the town Of ROVNO in the Ukraine. Actually my family name I was told was originally “Sumer” but my great great something relative was taken at 16 by the Cossacks and while in the military his companions called him Rovner which stuck with him when he was discharged. There is a “Rovner Society” in New York composed of former residents of ROVNO which I met with, none of whom had the name “Rovner”. There are many Rovners in the US unrelated e.g. Julie Rovner of NPR. My family roots are from Chelsea and Boston Mass. A branch settled in Iowa and there are unrelated Rovners in L.A. and Philadelphia. Otherwise I have no idea as to its’ meaning in Ashkenazic terms.

    • Rovners in Philly seem to be from the Kiev area of Ukraine, namely bella cerkof, (bila tserkva). I was told there was a landsmanschaft as well. Maybe this will be informative.

  165. Hi
    Could you share the derivation of the name “Fenigson” or “Fenigzon”. Some write it “Fenigsohn” i think.
    Roots should be in Poland we think…
    Thanks

  166. Anyone know any Wayntraubs (Wajntraub, Waintraub, Weintraub, or any other variant spelling) whose family is from a small polish town, Kzonz (Wielki), near Sosnowiecz? The family is a family of Kohanim. Some family names include Naftali, Dovid, Rafael, Yisroel, Herschel, Leibish, Mordechai Chaim, and Yaakov.

    • I know a Samson Weintraub in Stockholm but have no idea, where do his family come from in Poland. You can find him on Facebook, good luck :)

  167. I’m looking for the origin or meaning of the name HUPERT
    my father was from Poland and I noticed Jewish and non-Jewish ppl with this name

    we may have come from Rambam Spain

    much earlier.

    Where can a name like this come from. We are a big family back in Poland and there were some who survived so there are many descendants

  168. My name Wexelbaum means Exchange tree = Banker.
    It was originally Weichselbaum. My father changed it during WWI because he thought ht it seemed too German.
    Weichselbaum meand Black Cherrytree as opposed to Kirchenbaum which means Red Cherrytree.

    Happy English New Year to all who speak English and/or don’t celebrate any other New Year. New Years comes just once per year…I think…

  169. I could be wrong but I believe that the name HUBERT is an occupational name for people who made wine casks or beer barrels. It srems from hooper = maker of barrel hoops.

  170. My maternal great-grandfather came to England from czarist Russia. When British authorities asked him his name, he thought that they were asking his ocupation. He answered Feldman, which means farmer. From then on Feldman became the last name of his family which multiiplied geometrically in the UK and the US…so that it has become a very common Jewish name…although few Jews were actually field men or farmers, since Jews were not allowed to own land in many European countries.

  171. My great-great Grandfather, Wolff Hyman, came from Schwersenz, Kingdom of Prussia (now Poland). His son, my great-grandfather, was Hyman Wolff Hyman. I didn’t see anything like Hyman in this discussion. Does anyone have any ideas as to its origin (and probably Heyman, Heimann, Heiman, etc.)?

  172. In my case it appears that the invented name and the patronymic name coexisted on official documents, at least for a time. My family’s official name was Malkin (which I believe is an invented name derived from Malka or Malek, meaning queen/king), and most of the family immigrated as such. But a few immigrated as Bruchows, which I believe is a Russianized variation of Baruch. Upon naturalization, the Bruchows officially became Malkins, matching their parents and siblings. Full story here: http://dziga.com/my-name-is-zalman-malkin/

  173. I always thought that my last name, Berkovich, came not from “bear” but from “Berle”, a man’s first name. The short version of Berle would have been Berko (or Berka), thus making Berkovich the “son of Berko”

      • But isn’t “Berko” itself often derived from Ber (bear)? The names I have come across in Grodno Gubernia’s revision lists suggest that Berko was just an eastern Polish version of the name known in other places as Ber. Many such names from this area seem to have the -ko suffix: Moshe becomes Moshko, Itzak becomes Itzko, etc.

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  175. Thank you for this site. And thanks be to the loving god who has helped people with such names survive into the third millennium, despite the mindless hatred of my church and (probably) my antisemitic ancestors. LET US BUILD A NEW JERUSALEM together, a civilization of love. Shalom

  176. nETTA sANOW kAPLAN - Reply

    i AM LOOKING FOR MY FATHER’S LAST NAME WHICH WAS SANOW ANGLOSIZED IN THE 20’S OR SO FROM SANOWITZ OR SARNOWITZ. I ASSUME IT IS AFTER A PLACE WHERE THEY LIVED BUT NOT SURE.
    ANY CLUES FOR ME
    THANKS, NETTA SANOW KAPLAN

  177. The “er” suffix is a place locater. Someone with the last name of “Berliner” was from a family who lived in Berlin, and only that, not a son of Berl And Glück ? That’s “luck.” That’s where that surname comes from.

    • You’re mistaken. My name is Berliner yet our family wasn’t in Germany for at least ten generations. We’ve heard rumors of our name’s origin being an ancestor named Berl Liner (although I would have no idea what the name Liner would mean either). The word Berliner in German also famously refers to a pastry similar to a jelly donut, I’m wondering if we were bakers or perhaps enjoyed such pastries.

  178. Sanowitz or Sarnowitz sound to me a whole lot like Chernowitz, which is now called Chernivtsi and is in Ukraine. Of course, it was in the Soviet Union before that, and Romanian before that and was in Galicia before that. It’s a place with many, many names, most of which are similar to Chernowitz, but sometimes spelled “Tsernovits” and other ways. It’s pretty easy to see how this name would be altered a little from Sarnowitz, and indeed I now a Sarnovics whose family name comes from there. Hope that helps!

  179. Ashkenazi Jews are descendants of people who converted to Judaism, not the ancient Hebrews. The surnames presented in this article are a part of their secular culture and have nothing to do with being Jewish. This would be like saying that ‘Ricci’ is a Catholic surname or ‘Smith’ is an Anglican surname.

    • You’re horribly mistaken. Ashkenazi Jews are historically traced back to the Israelite tribe; they were named Ashkenazi due to the name of the area in Germany in which they settled. I believe even Wikipedia provides a simple explanation of this. How dare you suggest that Ashkenazim are a direct product of a secular and assimilated culture?

  180. I believe my family name is uncommon. I’m not surprised it didn’t make the list. It’s currently “Rudolph”, but about three generations ago, it was changed from “Rudoller” (not sure of the spelling). Does anyone know about it?

  181. The Cabot ditty is plain enough and sounds English but I suspect it is Spanish/Italian that was Anglicized to escape scrutiny. The original Caboto changed to Cabot t reflect the common origins of the surrounding social milieu.. I am sure the Kerrys don’t mind at all!

  182. This comment trail certainly adds a new dimension to an already fascinating piece. Myown name (which my ancestors spelled with a small “v”) was adopted in the 1600s near Groningen. But having talked to several specialists in Dutch Jewish names the “Biema” part appears to have stumped the band. All agree it has nothing to do with a bima. Suggestion for its basis (it seems to have been a coinage) were “Benjaminite” and “Bohemian.” If anyone out there has a better idea I’m all ears. Many thanks again for this post, and all best. David Van Biema

  183. The article is poorly researched and inaccurate.

    It repeats many myths about the derivation of Jewish surnames. Bennett Murashkin flippantly claims that names ending in ‘stein’ indicated that the family were originally jewelers, that Kagan refers to Jews from Khazaria, and that before last names came into use, girls could use matronymics, not patronymics! His fanciful theories of name derivation are misleading.

    A clear indication that the author is not familiar with the topic is his mis-statement that names were changed at Ellis. Much better discussions of Ellis Island and names changes are to be found in articles by Philip Sutton, of the New York Public Library’s History Division and Genealogy Division (http://www.nypl.org/…/2013/07/02/name-changes-ellis-island,) and Dick Eastman (http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2013/10/no-family-names-were-not-changed-at-ellis-island.html ) Even the US Customs and Immigration Service debunks the name change myth: (http://www.uscis.gov/history-and-genealogy/genealogy/genealogy-notebook/immigrant-name-changes)

    Too bad a recognized genealogist was not approached to write an article on this topic.

    • I have already acknowledged these errors. They were pointed out a few weeks ago. You are a late to the game, but thank you nonetheless.

      • Your statement that you have “have already acknowledged these errors” is meaningless since you continue to allow the dissemination of what you now know is untrue. Have you notified the other publications that your article is inaccurate? Tweeting that you are now aware that there are “errors” is not sufficient.

        I wrote a letter to the editor in November 2013 when someone linked to the article on Facebook. I know of other genealogists who also wrote pointing out the errors.

        Your article should be pulled — and every publication which featured it should post an acknowledgement that it is severely flawed: You offer repeat myths that have bee disproven, give no references, give incorrect sources for surnames, make statements that are totally wrong. GANS – an insulting name? Check the history books – it is a name used by non-Jews as well as Jews…. and the non-Jews used surnames long before Jews did. Did you consult the works of any of the experts in the field: Guggenheimer and Horowitz, Alexander Beider, Lars Menk? I think not.

        • I have tried to set the record straight. Have you read my recent blog on this very site?

          I think your assessment and tone is overly negative. Many have given me credit for an interesting piece but all you see are the mistakes.

    • Hello Barbara
      You are completely right. This article is full with mistakes . can you ‘ please’ send me links or names of articles or books dealing with the subject of the origin of Jewish Ashkenazim family names.
      Baruch

  184. Mother’s family is Steigerwald. I’ve only seen that name one other time, perhaps because it would be shortened or anglicized at Ellis Island (?). All my ancestors on that side were Jewish and from Germany, mostly in the South. Any ideas?

  185. Names were NOT changed at Ellis. Much better discussions of Ellis Island and names changes are to be found in articles by Philip Sutton, of the New York Public Library’s History Division and Genealogy Division (http://www.nypl.org/…/2013/07/02/name-changes-ellis-island,) and Dick Eastman (http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2013/10/no-family-names-were-not-changed-at-ellis-island.html . ) Even the US CUSTOMS AND IMMIGRATION SERVICE debunks the name change myth: (http://www.uscis.gov/history-and-genealogy/genealogy/genealogy-notebook/immigrant-name-changes)

  186. I agree with those who wrote that this article is full with mistakes and unproved myths.
    The “story” of the Jewish Ashkenazim names is much more complicated.
    There are changing of names during the immigration from western Europe to the east . There changing in Ellis Island and also in Israel.
    I think that lot of information lost in the Holocaust.
    may be one must take each name separately and learn it from the beginning.

    Can someone recommend be accurate and reliable books and internet places ?

  187. My grandmother was from a small village in the mountains of Lebanon (Kusba). Her last name (which is common in this village) is Israel. She was Orthodox “Christian”. I participated in the National Geographic Genome project and the geography of our family originated in the Black Sea area. I am not sure of the reason my grandmother had this last name, as most people I know with this last name are Jewish. I noticed the article did not mention this last name, but I have seen it several times. Any thoughts on this?

  188. Does anyone know anything about Kaminsky, Lenz, and Gramlich? I have heard they are Ashkenazi, but I don’t know how to prove it.

  189. Although an attempt has been made to trace my father’s ancestry, unsuccessfully, it is interesting to know the derivation of his last name. All of the history of the naming of Jews, above, if fascinating. Thanks for sharing the information and the comments.

  190. Pingback: Tracing Jewish Surnames | The Penn Ave Post

  191. My father was from Rega Latvia and his father was from Russia. Their last name was Kamens. There is a city or town somewhere in middle Russia call Kamensk on a National Geograhic map that I have. Any more Kamens’ out there. Our family was the only Kamens in the New York phone directery that I knew of

  192. Very interesting. What about the name Ziering which is spelled in the Hebrew with a Tsadee. I was told it may have been a jeweler.

  193. Does anyone know about the surname STERN? My father was born in “Malava” , Poland but it does not exist anymore. I think it became part of Germany? (not sure)?

  194. Stern means star. It was a name Jews chose because it sounded nice. It could also have been a house sign, before addresses were used. Also chosen for aesthetic reasons.

  195. Pingback: Morning Jew: Bridgegate, Chelsea Handler, last names & Bill Keller | Katie Halper

  196. Has anyone ever come across the name: SUCOLSKY?
    That is my mothers maiden name. I have only seen it in London. All were my mothers family (except one who I have yet to prove). I various census reports I have also seen them enumerated as:
    SAKOLSKY, SOLINSKY, SOCHOWALKSY & SEPULSKY. I have found a few in the USA – all 3 were my mothers family (in NY) except one I found in Philadelphia who I haven’t connected the dots with.

  197. Pingback: Jewish Surnames Explained, & Rebuttal by Dara Horn « Israel Activist Alliance

  198. Pingback: „Mi a neved, zsidó?” – askenázi nevek Közép-Kelet-Európában - Hirperc | Hirperc

  199. Great blog!

    I’m curious about Siegel. What is its origin? Are the spelling variations related (Siegel/Siegal/Siegler)?

    Thanks

  200. The family name of my father, who was born in Pinsk [Belaruss] was Bobrov [Beaver – the animal that lived in the swamps near Pinsk]. He immigrated to Erets Israel -Palestine] in 1926. In the 50th we chaned our name to Raviv.
    My mother was born in Bendin – aouthen Poland, and her family name was Scheintal -” beatiful valley”.
    As I undersatand these names were not typical Jewish names.

  201. I have been trying to trace the family name of my husband’s Jewish grandfather – Isaac Pogasterof(f).
    Unfortunately we do not know from which part of Russia he originated. If anyone out there can help I will be most grateful. I have searched many sites but the name never appears!! He became a French resident and then became a naturalized Englishman where he married and died at a very young age leaving two children. His wife died a short time afterwards but we know all of her background.

  202. Greetings!
    Great piece.
    the article refers to Marcus (related to the god, Mars).
    Anyone have information on Marcuse (with the “e” at the end)?
    Best wishes to all,
    Richard

  203. My father’s name Angielczyk is believed to have come from the time the Jews were expelled from England in the 13th century meaning little Englishman in Polish

    My mother came to England from Odessa in 1904 as a baby with her mother. Their name was Turianski but the immigration officers could not cope with this name and so called them Tolansky. My uncle the famous Samuel Tolansky was born with this name in England

  204. Hey , i searched all over the internet and i couldnt find the meaning or anything about my surname..
    its Wicnudel ..
    and i dont know its meaning

  205. My father’s family name is BIER. He was born in Poland as was his father and father before him. Anything you can tell me about this name? It can be spelled BIR and BER, but Zaidie says they spelled it as BIER in Poland. Thanks for your wonderful documentation.

  206. Looking for Dobsky’s…
    NatGeo Genome DNA results indicate Ashkenazi roots…
    Also, what is the meaning of “sky” on the end of Slavic names?

  207. Records that I have says that my Great great grandfather Alexander S Bowman (hebrew name on his grave Alexander ben Shmuel) was born 1847 in Schneidermuhl, Prussia. He settled in the Fiji Islands and married Sara Annette Solomon 1877 in Levuka, Fiji. Is there anyone here that can relate to this info….? many thanks.

  208. Pingback: Schwartz, Szwec and Serendipity | Under the Linden Tree

  209. I am interested in tracing any Shoklander family in the USA, probably descendents of Isaak Shoklander, brother of Samuel.

  210. My name is Klem Kaddiddlehopper. I’m part polish, part German, part Russian, Part Italian, Part Jewish (if such a word exists), and the other 95% White Caucasian Human!!

    Now buzz off and stop bickering.

  211. My grandmothers maiden name was Moveley and my DNA said I am Ashkenazi jew origin through my mother s mother etc –what is the origin of this name

  212. Lieb means “lion” in Yiddish. It is the root of many Ashkenazic last names including Liebowitz, Lefkowitz, Lebush, and Leon. It is the Yiddish translation of the Hebrew work for lion — aryeh. The lion was the symbol of the tribe of Judah….I have a question… my grandfather’s sure name was Lion…anybody knows the origin? Is it from french Lyon related to a place or from aryeh? My grandfather was a Czech jew. Lieb means “lion” in Yiddish. It is the root of many Ashkenazic last names including Liebowitz, Lefkowitz, Lebush, and Leon. It is the Yiddish translation of the Hebrew work for lion — aryeh. The lion was the symbol of the tribe of Judah. name? Anybody would know anything about the origin of name Lion?

  213. I was told that Essu is Russian for referring to the Essene people of the Dead Sea area in Israel. What is the meaning of “lat” as a word part of words found in the Middle East, such as Elat?

  214. My maiden name is Zackin I know some about it can you post any information
    My Paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Brodie any Info?
    My Maternal grandparents were Wallach and Ackerman any info?
    Thank you

    • My list article explains the names Wallach and Ackerman. I am not familiar with the Zackin. Brodie may be a place name as there was a major European town called Brody in Austro-Hungary.

    • My great-grandfather’s name was Brodie too. It was derived from Brode or Braude from Lithuania. He went to Ireland when he was younger and changed his name to Brodie. He came over to U.S. (Boston?) and settled in Connecticut. Is there any connection?

  215. Does having one of these names in your family really mean that you’re Jewish?
    When I look up the origin of my mother’s maiden-name, Kurz ( an alternative spelling of Kurtz),
    it says that it’s mainly a German and Jewish (Ashkenazic) surname.
    Does this mean that it’s German-Jewish in origin, or that it can be either?
    I’m a little confused here, so any help would be very much appreciated.

  216. Hey!
    So my last name is Blessing and I know that my family hails from Zweibrucken in west Germany. There is a family tale that we are descended from jews. Have you heard any more on German Blessings?

  217. Very interesting article. I’ve been researching my mom’s maternal line and you mention the surname, Hollander, in your article. You stated that it is based on a town in Lithuania settled by Dutch, but didn’t name the town. Do you know the name of the town? If I had the town name it would help me focus my research enormously.

    • Hi, I have looked into this one myself a few times as it is my own surname. There was no specific town, but apparently multiple towns in Poland/Lithuania that encouraged Dutch settlement and gave tax breaks to Dutch people that settled in those towns and brought advanced agriculture and whatnot. Apparently Jews also often settled in the towns since they were foreigner friendly, and Jews from them would take their names after the settlements, that were called “Hollendery” and “Hollenderski”. Most of the settlements that used these names were along the Vistula river, and you can trace Hollanders that lived all through from Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Galicia, Ukraine and the Crimea. It seems that they started in the North and moved south as those countries and areas opened up more to Jewish migration in the late 19th Century. It also causes variations of the name – I have seen Holender, Hollender, most commonly Hollaender and so on when I visited synagogues in eastern Romania – Galati and Tulcea, which is where my Hollander ancestors left Europe from. We seem to have indications that they were likely not in Romania long, but tracing roots beyond Romania seems very difficult, other than the Vistula River Dutch settlement origin of the surname.

      Also note there is another back story to the name – which is that Jews from the Netherlands took the name when migrating east, and another that changed from the Sephardic name Albergezie. Anyway, hope this helps a little.

  218. My grandfather was from Kupel in the Ukraine. He was born about 1880. He explained to me that when they were forced to take names for the draft etc. so that the government could keep track of the Jewish population, some people chose ridiculous names (to them) as the only people who used the surnames were the officials and it made them sound silly when they called them out for example if they called out Rosebush or Parsnip. Within the Jewish community, they used their Yiddish names in the traditional manner – i.e. son of, daughter of.

    I also just read in a history of my extended family that when they were drafting Jewish boys, some families gave their sons different but similar surnames as each family was allowed to keep one son from the draft.

  219. My wife’s maiden name of Ginger. Originally, her grandfather was Wasail Ginger >> Jinger (double : over the “i” with birth certificate of son, Paul, saying father and mother apparently listed their former homeland as “Austria.” The original spelling was Dzindiruch, I believe. Thus far, haven’t been able to locate a town(s) where they were from. Dorothy’s mother was Helen. Her father was a man named Michael Mike (Mark), Nester but there are documents that indicate his Russian name was Nesterchuk. All lived in Chicago. Mike Nester listed his occupation in Russia as “shoemaker.” At the date of his Declaration of Intent to renounce other citizenship, he was 23 (11 March 1918). Date of birth was 29 December, 1894. Stated his wife at the time was named “Leina.” He and perhaps wife came through Detroit and signed Declaration on 11 March, 1912. After the Czar abdicated, but provisional government took over with Mensehviks, Bolsheviks, etc. Before Communist Revolution.
    Within the family, he reportedly spoke Yiddish.
    My wife died of Ovarian cancer recently; her mother and two aunts also died of gynecological cancers, We had my wife tested for the BRAC 1 or BRAC 2 Gene. One or both have higher mortality rates among those of Jewish ancestry.
    She tested with BRAC1 and died of chemo resistant ovarian cancer.
    She never knew or necessarily agreed she was Jewish.
    His Declaration of Intent to renounce Russian citizenship indicates he was born in 1894 in Russia. His document states Sastow. He hand wrote the document. Gave height, weight, eye color, etc. Said he came into Halifax, Canada, via the Grand Trunk R.R. line. Google Sastow and Rostov, comes up. Two Rostov’s; one the larger, taken Putin’s fascist invasion of Ukraine. Other is farther north.
    Not being familiar with Russian immigrant routes into North America, I didn’t know if this was common or not. One of my wife’s sisters said the Nesterchuk’s came in via Siberia, around the tip of South America, etc. Again, not conversant with Russian Jewish immigration patterns, don’t know. Seems pretty round about, but not sure what was happening in the struggle between Czarists and provisional government. No indication yet if that’s correct. I.e., haven’t found a ship that they were on entering Halifax, Canada.
    Helen Juliana Nester (my wife’s mother), child of Mark (not Mike) Nester and Lena Helen Stazuk Nester was born in Chicago and baptized @ Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, Orthodox Church of America. A more specific document that was dated 1940, certified that Mark (Michael) Nester (Nesterchuk) and Helen Stizk (think it’s Stazuk) were married in the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church.
    A special on Catholic Broadcasting indicated that these catholics were singled out by Stalin because his counter intelligence services Cheka, NKVD, etc., had infiltrated and priests of this denomination had been trained by Vatican officials to serve as spies. All perished or were lost in camps, prisons, etc.
    Searching under Michael Nester, ancestry.com, for draft registration records, I found, in what to me appears to be same style of handwriting (good English) living in Chicago, date hard to read but think 1918 or 1920.
    Of high interest, is that he states he was born in Belogordka Volnesk, Russia.
    Googling that name, it appears that this town is mentioned in a book about the “Golden Age of The Shtetl.” And further google hits indicate there was a mass Jewish grave in this area (it referred to Volynesk) and that another citation indicated there was a Hasidic population in this town.
    It would appear that if the Hasidic or other Jews in Bologordka Volnesk were located in what was also called Volynia, then if there was a massacre there, it was likely at the hands of the despicable Einsatzgruppen.
    As someone who has studied the Holocaust since Eichmann was captured, I’ve always wondered why?
    Last year I took a DNA test from DNA Tribes and added a “Middle Eastern Panel,” because my European DNA indicated the fifth highest marker was “Ashkenazy Jew.” This was a surprise because my siblings have researched our DNA and only gotten as far back as Irish (predominantly father’s side); Mother’s side, Scots-Irish. Catholic on father’s side; Lutheran on Mother’s … no mention ever of Jewish ancestry.
    But, the Middle Eastern Panel showed Ashkenazy Jewish, in Romania, Hungary, Budapest.
    This is ME. So far, nothing that would be as direct a possible link to Russian Jewish heritage as my wife’s with the mention of Belogordka Volensky, Russia and the findings of definite Hasidic Jewish town.
    Again, my instincts said: many Russians of the late 1800s and early 1900s probably were not conversant with Yiddish.
    Michael Mark Nester(chuk) wrote very good English in my opinion for his entry papers.
    He was alleged to have died a drunk … in a pedestrian accident, in 1940.
    In MY WIFE’ MEMORY, I would like to now if there is any deeper documentation of this town and in particular, whether any lists of Jewish citizens was ever compiled and can be located in the period 1880-1918. Whether He might have had a russian spelling to Michael Mikael, perhaps. And I found one source that showed his wife as Alenea or Alenya.
    And, what, if any connectionn there might be with his occupation, Shoemaker, and his name … as perhaps it was a family name associated in Belogoradka Volensk with other family members who were also shoemakers (the list of surnames and occupations doesn’t seem to cover Nesterchuk.
    This is so far the information I’ve found in several days.
    If my wife’s family perished in the Holocaust, especially in “Death by Bullets,” I truly feel that my interest in the Holocaust has been almost as if some ghosts have been speaking to me for 40+ years. This would be my own connection with Ashkenazy Jewish, Romania, Budapest, Hungary.
    So far, nothing we’ve found in actual names reach back to those countries. DNA Tribes makes it clear I have a lot of Semitic genetics, plus Pontic-Caspian heritage.
    Siblings have found German names we never knew were there.
    If anyone can shed any light … I’d appreciate it.
    I feel like these spirits have called me ever since my wife first showed me the few papers she had from her mother and father and grandfather … and that one tidbit … Michael Mark Nester spoke Yiddish.
    My wife as a beautiful woman, and I loved her and while she may not have given this much credence in her life time, she has children and they may all test out on the BRAC1 Gene, or, perhaps if there is Jewish heritage, show the Jewish marker as well.
    That goes for the males as well as females.
    My website needs updated but it was hikingapacheria and I’ve written 30 articles on the Apache.
    desertexposure.com/apacheria.
    I fought for our country in Vietnam, and am a disabled veteran since 1966.
    I took a lot of “razing” as to “where’d you get that Jewish nose, kid.”
    Or, “Roman nose.”
    Never got it. Knowing a fair amount about the Holocaust, the Einsatzgruppen, of course, were horrible, hideous people. The book “Holocaust by Bullets” is one of the finest, written by a priest, as he and others return to the Ukraine. As I understand it, the modern town of Volensk, is in Ukraine. Giving such detail, I appreciate someone’s patience. Maybe no one can help.
    Will look in Einsatzgruppen records that might have this town listed for slaughter. One day, I believe.
    Sounds like there are Jewish graves till there and perhaps some Jewish residents (10-100) in the late 1990s.

  220. Jessie barber, née Kemack - Reply

    I am trying to find out where my father’s family came from. My grandfather was either an immigrant or the son of an immigrant who started off going to England and then to South Africa in the early 1900’s
    I have been unable to find out where the family originated or to trace any members of his family
    Please help!

  221. The TATAR name is a Hungarian name for the mongols.
    The mongolian empire took over under the leadership of Genghis Khan on most of Asia and Europe in the 13th-14th century. The hungarian name for the tribe is Tatar.
    It’s not a Jewish name, it a very common name in Hungary.

  222. I have a question. My maiden last name is Holland. My father mentioned that we have both Dutch and German. I was wondering if anyone knows how someone would come about getting the last name Holland? Is that a common Dutch last name? Is it something that might of been common for people, before moving to another country took the name of where they came from? I find it hard to look up my history. Due to lots of divorces and adoptions on both my mother and father’s side of the family. Thank you for all your feedback in advance. Anything is helpful.

  223. Great article.
    I was wondering if any has an idea from where the name Rosenspitz might come from?
    I know my ancestors came from Austro-Hungary area, and there’s a mountain called Rosenspitz in south-Austria (but with no village nor towns with that name).
    It doesn’t seem like a popular place for jews to be at, so I might think it’s more likely about the profession (selling pointed roses maybe?).
    Any more ideas?

    BTW, the name Shlivke (i’m not sure about the spelling) means Plums. Was popular in Poland.

  224. Read a years worth of comments! Haven’t seen these names that I am stuck on in an ancestry search. Elkin, Elkinna, Elkinas, tsadok, tsadyk and Zelikovna or Zelikovich! My grandfather said came from near Minsk , but have searched all of Belarus and cannot find his name Elkin and his parents names, driving me crazy! Anyone have a clue, thank you!!!!!

  225. My Family surname Reichard from Sátoraljaújhely, Hungary. We are trying to find out how the name Reichard got to Hungary. It is a common German surname and after the 1730’S edict all Jews had to adopt an UNCOMMON German surname. Any information would be appreciated.

  226. I understand from research and history that I have Jewish ancestry. My family name is Panzer. Hailing from Bavaria and surrounding area. Possibly some Ashkenazi connections too. Anyone have any information to substantiate would be appreciated.

  227. I’ve been trying to trace my Jewish origins both from my great -grandmother who was Emilie Schimmel. She, I take it is of the Hebrew name Shimon or Simon? This is on my father side (his grandmother). On my mothers side, her grandparents were Meyer and Mayer…and I know they are of German ancestry, but I’ve heard they are Jewish also. I have no idea how much that makes me Jewish? My last name is Zahnow, and I’ve been doing a bit of research on this too. Zahnow. is either Prussian or Polish (?) and they came from the Pomeranian area of Prussia…now Poland. I am very interested in all of this and hope to one day understand and get my family tree and origins together…
    If anyone knows any of these names I’d appreciate it. PS: I believe that Emilie Schimmels father worked for Kaiser Wilhelm 2 n d, ruler of Prussia, but I need to research this. Also I believe that Schimmel means “White Horse”. Emilie was disinherited for marrying my Great grandfather Herman
    Wilhelm Ludwig Zahnow (she must of come from a wealthy family?) rainbowarrior@centurylink.org

  228. Would like to derive souce of Donenfeld name. My father came from Bucovina area of Austria/Hungary now part of Ukraine . The name exists on tombstone in town of Strugnivetz dating back to 1790

  229. Marcovici:

    I would like to know whatever information is available on the etymology or history of the family name Marcovici, other than “The Son of Marco”

    Or about the name Marco.

    Thank you.

  230. I am working on the family history and have found Lewenszpil (poland), Levensphul,(France, Brazil), Levenspil, Canada. In U.S/England and Australia. Could you tell me the meaning of the name and the origins? I have only gone as far back as 1826.

    Thank you.

  231. Diana Bower (Bauer) Shikiar - Reply

    Coming late to all these comments but stunned to see the connections that have been made. The power of the internet! Bauer is not an uncommon name, but I’m having difficulty tracing my dad’s family back beyond Moses Bauer, born in Schotten, Bavaria, Germany – I believe he was born in the late 1700’s and descendants were either trading livestock or were butchers, as recently as my uncle, head butcher at Brown’s in the Catskills. (This Moses/Moishe supposedly died in Schotten, and did not come to America like another Moses Bauer.) Thanks for any help.

  232. Please help.. My mothers maiden name is “Serna”.. her genealogy was traced only so far… one of her great great great grandmothers, had the last name “Karr”.. I want to find out what tribe we come from, and eventually, my Jewish relatives.. thank you! :-) Shalom

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