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  ... Jewish Ancestors in Poland  

grajewo shtetl
lodz ghetto

The Origin of Jewish Names

Until the turn of the 18th century, Jews who lived in Poland did not have surnames at all (similar to Polish peasants). They were described by given names combined with a nickname or a function they had, like Jankiel Karczmarz (Jankiel the Innkeeper), Rudy Moszek (Moszek the Redhead), Justyna Izraelitka (Justyna the Jew) etc. With the big wave of immigration to Poland at the beginning of the 19th century, new names appeared: Hebrew, German, Spanish. Very popular were also copies of Polish surnames created from the father’s name like Aronowicz or Herszlikowski. Besides these, there were also surnames made from the city’s or profession’s name, like Warszawski, Belchatowski or Zlotnik (goldsmith).

In the part of the country under the mandatory of Austria, the law given by a Emperor obliged Jews to have surnames. Prussia followed soon on its territory. As the law prescribed creating unique names, the creativity of clerks seemed to have no limits. Sometimes funny or even insulting surnames were given to people who did not understand the meaning, like Muttermilch (mother's milk) or Kanalgeruch (canal smell). Jews could however chose better surnames after paying a baksheesh. Rich Jews could get names like Goldstein, Perlstein, or Silberstein. Needless to say that names with Gold were more expensive than Silver...

Until 1850 the law allowed to take not only a new name for a newly born baby, but also a surname. This privilege was often used by Jews who seeked the assimilation. Some Jews were given very Polish noble surnames. Some converted Jews took Polish sounding surnames like Nawrocki (from "nawrot", conversion). Some took over the surnames of their baptizing parents together with their crests like Fajga Brodacz who became the duchess Julia Kazimiera Lubienska in 1847.

In old records you will often find typical Slavic name endings like Lipkowsk-a (the wife of Lipkowsk-i) or Mamrot-owa (wife of Mamrot). Girls and unmarried women used the form -owna, like Herszlikowna, which indicated them as dauthers of Herszlik. Another custom was to give

In 20th century surnames were already stabile but sometimes, fro various reasons, were still changed. Especially between the both World Wars, Jews changed their surnames loosing their Jewish identity, at least optically.

 In nowaday Poland “typical“ Jewish names are very seldom.


What's in a name?
How did Jewish names come about in Poland?


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