Hey Jews: Here’s the Origin of Your Last Name

Turns out that “Miller” comes from the profession of milling!

OK, that was obvious, but if you are a fellow Jew with a more interesting last name, this is a cool article by Bennett Muraskin in Business Insider:

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 (Sara bat rivka), 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.

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, “son” would be denoted by “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.

Click here to read the full piece.




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