Friday, July 5, 2013

Where Jews got last names

Other than aristocrats and wealthy people Jews did not get surnames in Eastern Europe until the Napoleon years of the early 19th century. Most of the Jews from countries captured by Napoleon, Russia, Poland, and Germany were ordered to get surnames for tax purposes. 

After Napoleon's defeat, many Jews dropped these names and returned to "son of" names such as: MENDELSOHN, JACOBSON, LEVINSON, etc. 

During the so called Emancipation, Jews were once more ordered to take surnames. In Austria the Emperor Joseph made Jews take last names in the late 1700s, Poland in 1821 and Russia in 1844. It's probable that some of our families have had last names for 175 years or less. 

In France and the Anglo Saxon countries surnames went back to the16th century. Also Sephardic Jews had surnames stretching back centuries. Spain, prior to Ferdinand and Isabella was a golden spot for Jews. They were expelled by Isabella in the same year that Columbus left for America. 

The earliest American Jews were Sephardic. 

In general there were Five types of names (people had to pay for their choice of names; the poor had assigned names): 

1-- Names that were descriptive of the head of household: 
HOCH (tall) 
KLEIN (small) 
COHEN (descendant of Aaron on the male line) 
BURGER (village dweller) 
SHEIN (good looking) 
LEVI (Levite) 
GROSS (large) 
SCHWARTZ (dark or black) 
WEISS (white) 
KURTZ (short) 
GROSSBARD (big beard) 
GELBART (yellow beard) 

2 -- Names describing occupations: 
HOLTZ (wood) 
HOLTZHOCKER (wood chopper) 
GELTSCHMIDT (go ldsmith) 
SCHNEIDER (tailor) 
KREIGSMAN (warrior) 
MALAMED (teacher) 
EISEN (iron) 
FISCHER (fisherman) 
SCHMUCKLER (jeweler) 

3-- Names from place of origin: 
DEUTSCH (German) 
POLLACK (Polish) 

4. -- Bought names: 
GLUCK (luck), 
ROSEN (roses), 
ROSENBLATT (rose paper or leaf), 
ROSENBERG (rose mountain), 
ROTHMAN (red man), 
KOENIG (king), 
SPIELMAN (spiel is to play), 
LIEBER (lover), 
BERG (mountain), 
WASSERMAN (water dweller), 
KIRSHENBLATT (cherry [colored] paper), 
STEIN (stone, stoneware, beer mug). 

5-- Assigned names (usually undesirable): 
PLOTZ (to die), 
KLUTZ (clumsy), 
BILLIG (cheap) 
DREK (shit) 
BARDAKI (bordello operator) 
SCHEINSKOPF (shiny head) 
BECKMESSER (knife beak) 
MONCHARSH (monk's arse) 

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