Russian Jewish surnames / question for historians #general

A Tsar Is Born <enchante@...>

Dear group,

Jews did not have surnames in 18th century Poland. The partitioning powers
applied their own laws to the Jews subsequently. In Russia, surnames were
rare for anyone but the nobility, the higher bourgeoisie (a small group)
and foreign immigrants before the 19th century. Tsar Alexander I (1801-25)
appears to be the man who decreed that all his subjects take surnames.

Most Jews' surnames were Germanic or Russian. The exceptions are usually
Cohanim or Levites: Cohen, Cohn, Kahn, Levy, Levitt, Levinson, Levine, etc.

But my family, which always regarded itself as of a certain distinction,
has a Hebrew surname, and we took it in the early 19th century. It exists
in many different transliterations in many different branches of the family
(Yohalem, Yaglom, Jaglom, etc.) But it's all the same Hebrew word.

Does anyone know of cases where Jewish families in the Pale (we lived in
Anipolye or Antopol, in Grodno Gobernya, now Belarus) were allowed to
choose their own surname, and to choose one in Hebrew to boot? What might
have been the circumstances of such a thing? Were we just rich, or had we
some sort of community authority? Or did no one in the ruling classes
really care what the Jews did?

I am interested in discussing this with anyone who has read Russian/Jewish
history of this era, who can tell me of similar cases.

John Yohalem

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