Origins of Jewish Surnames


Brady Street Cemetery, London

The online news magazine Slate has an informative article on the origins of Jewish Surnames.  It was news to me that Ashkenazi Jews did not adopt hereditary surnames until the the eighteenth century.  Before then Jewish last names changed every generation (Like the modern Icelandic naming system) as they explain in Slate:

For example, if Moses son of Mendel (Moyshe ben Mendel) married Sarah daughter of Rebecca (Sora bas Rifke), and they 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.

The article has an exhaustive list of Jewish surnames and their etymologies from patronymics to matronymics from occupational names to personal traits.  I was surprised to seem my mother’s maiden name on the list of animal names.  They were Lutheran in the 1850’s but maybe they were originally Jewish.  It would be interesting to find out.


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