The Origins and Meaning of Ashkenazic Last Name: By Bennett Muraskin
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), he would be called Shmuel ben Moyshe. If they had a girl and named her Feygele, she would be called Feygele bas Moyshe.
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 their new last names, which were essential as they sought to advance within the broader society, and as the shtetls themselves became more modern, 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.”
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 “vich” or “vitz” ), anglicized to "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.
BASED ON WOMEN'S NAMES Reflecting the prominence of Jewish women in business, some families made last names out of women’s first names: Chaiken—son of Chaikeh Dvorkin--from Dvora Edelman—husband of Edel Frumkin--from Frume 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/Malkin—from Malke Leaman/Lehman--husband of Leah Perlman—husband of Perl Rivken—from Rivke Soronsohn—son of Sarah
PLACE NAMES The next most common source of Jewish last names is probably place names. Jews used the town or region where they lived—or more likely where their families came from---as their last name, reflecting the Germanic origins of most East European Jews. "Ashkenazi" itself a Jewish last name and there is a famous Yiddish novel by I.J. Singer, the older brother of I.B. Singer, called The Brothers Ashkenazi, set in Poland. Asch—acronym for towns of Aisenshtadt or Altshul or Amshterdam Auerbach/Orbach Bacharach Berger—generic for townsman Berg (man)—from a hilly pace Bayer—from Bavaria Bamberger Berlin—Berliner, Berlinsky Bloch—foreigner Brandeis Breslau Brodsky Brody Danziger Deutch/Deutscher—German Dorf(man)—villager Eisenberg Epstein Frankel—from Franconia, region of Germany Frankfurter Ginsberg Gordon—from Grodno, Lithuania or from the Russian word gorodin, for townsman Greenberg Halperin—from Helbronn, Germany 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 Bader/Teller--barber Baker/Boker—baker Blecher—tinsmith Fleisher/Fleishman/Katzoff/Metger—butcher Cooper/Cooperman—barrel maker or coppersmith Drucker—printer Einstein—mason Farber—painter/dyer Feinstein—jeweler Fisher—fisherman Forman—driver/teamster Garber/Gerber—tanner Glazer/Glass/Sklar—glazier Goldsmith —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/silversmith Spielman—player (musician?) Stein/Steiner/Stone—jeweler Wasserman—water carrier
Merchants Garfinkel/Garfunkel—diamond dealer Holtzman/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 Wollman—wool merchant Zucker/Zuckerman—sugar merchant
Medical Aptheker--druggist Feldsher—barber surgeon in military service
Related to garment work or 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 Wechsler/Halphan—money changer
Related to liquor trade Bronfman/Brand/Brandler/Brenner—distiller Braverman/Meltzer—brewer Kabakoff/Kreuger/Vigoda—tavern keeper Geffen—wine merchant Wine/Weinglass—wine merchant Weiner—wine maker
Religious/Communal Altshul/Altshuler—associated with the old synagogue in Prague Cantor/Kazan/Singer/Spivack—cantor or song leader in shul Feder/Federman/Schreiber—scribe Gottlieb--God lover Haver—from haver (court official) Klausner—rabbi for small congregation Klopman—calls people to morning prayers by knocking on their windows 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, or some say to a shoemaker who used a "third leg" to hold shoes Erlich--honest Frum—devout Gottleib—God lover, perhaps also referring to someone devout Geller/Gelb/Gelber—yellow, perhaps referring to someone with blond hair Gross/Grossman—big Gruber—coarse or vulgar Feifer/Pfeifer—whistler Fried/Friedman/Freedman—happy Hoch/Hochman/Langer/Langerman—tall Klein/Kleinman—small Klugman---smart 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 Sussking/Ziskind---sweet child Weiss/Weissbard--white hair/ beard
INSULTING NAMES These were sometimes foisted on Jews who discarded them as soon as possible, but a few remain: Gans--goose Inkyk--turkey Grob--coarse/crude Kalb--cow
ANIMAL NAMES It is common among all peoples to take last names from the animal kingdom. bear—Baer/Berman/Beerman/Berkowitz/Beronson eagle –Adler (may derive from reference to an eagle in Psalm 103:5) camel—Gelfand/Helfand (technically means elephant but was used for camel too) carp—Karp falcon—Falk/Sokol/Sokolovksy finch—Fink fox—Fuchs/Liss pike—Hecht ox—Ochs quail-Wachtel
HOUSE SIGNS FROM FRANKFURT AND PRAGUE Einhorn---unicorn Hirschhorn--deer antlers Loeb--lion Rothschild—red shield Schiff—ship Spiegel—mirror Stern—star Strauss—ostrich or bouquet of flowers
HEBREW NAMES Some Jews either retained or adopted traditional Jews names from the Bible.
The big two Cohen-- Cohn, Kohn, Kagan, Kahan, Kahn, Kaplan Levi—Levy, Levine, Levinsky, Levitan, Levenson, Levitt, Lewin, Lewinsky, Lewinson
Others from the Bible Aaron—Aronson/ Aronoff Asher Benjamin David—Davis/Davies Emanuel—Mendel Isaac—Isaacs/Isaacson/Eisner Jacob—Jacobs/Jacobson/Jacoby Joseph--Josephs/Josephson Judah—Idelsohn/Udell/Yudelson Mayer/Meyer (Talmudic, not Biblical) Menachem—Mann Pinchas--Pincus Reuben—Rubin Samuel—Samuels/Zangwill Simon—Schimmel Solomon—Zalman
HEBREW ACRONYMS Baron—bar aron (son of Aaron) Beck--bene kedoshim (descendant of martyrs) Getz—gabbai tsedek (righteous synagogue official) Katz—kohen tsedek (righteous priest) Metz--moreh tsedek (teacher of righteousness Sachs/Saks—zera kodesh shemo (his name descends from martyrs) Segal/Siegel—se gan levia (second rank Levite) Shub/Shoub--shochet u'bodek (ritual slaughter/kosher meat inspector)
HEBREW-DERIVED NAMES Leyb 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 Psalms 118:22 Good(man)—Yiddish translation of Hebrew word for “good”--tuviah Margolin—Hebrew for pearl Jaffe/Yaffe--Hebrew for beautiful
INVENTED ‘FANCY SHMANCY’ NAMES When Jews 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 were 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." Applebaum—pear 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 "baum" names
Names with these combinations were also chosen or purchased:
Blumen (flower) Fein (fine) combined with: Gold “berg” for hill or mountain, “thal” for valley, Green “bloom” for flower, “zweig” for branch, “blatt” Lowen (lion) for leaf, “vald” or “wald” for woods, “feld” Rosen (rose) for field, "farb" for color Schoen/Schein (pretty)
Other aesthetically pleasing names Diamond Glick/Gluck—luck Goldman Hoffman—hopeful Fried/Friedman/Freedman—happiness Lieber/Lieberman—lover Silber/Silberman--silver
FROM NON-JEWISH LANGUAGES Sender/Saunders---from Alexander 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
ANGLICIZED NAMES (or why “Sean Ferguson” was a Jew) Jewish last names were often changed or shortened by immigrants themselves and their descendants--- to sound more “American.” (In rarer cases, immigration inspectors may have accidently changed the names of immigrants by misreading them. ) For example, Cohen to Cowan, Yalowitz to Yale, Rabinowitz to Robbins, as reflected in this 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!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT What happened to the last names of Ashkenazic Jews who immigrated to pre-state Palestine and to early Israel??? David Green became David Ben Gurion Abba Meir became Abba Eban Golda Meyerson became Golda Meir Amos Klausner became Amos Oz Syzmon Perski became Shimon Peres Ariel Scheinerman became Ariel Sharon Moshe Shertok became Moshe Sharett Levi Shkolnick became Levi Eshkol Yitzhak Jeziernicky became Yitzhak Shamir Why? To distance themselves from Ashkenazic Jewry.