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
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.