Town Names (Toponyms) as Surnames #general

Dov & Varda <yknow@...>

Sally Bruckheimer wrote: >Usually someone took a town name as a surname when
they had moved >from that town to a nearby one.>

This is only one of many scenarios that could cause someone to take a town
name as a surname, thus I believe that, 'sometimes', is more apt than,
'usually'. Toponyms as surnames might be clues, but they also might not be

For example, many times names were given arbitrarily. My husband's family,
for instance, chose the name EPSTEIN, apropos of nothing at all. Another
example of arbitrary naming occurs in a cousin's line. His grandfather was a
Yeshiva student in Hebron, but apparently the Russians had a very long arm,
and all the students with Russian passports were required to take surnames.
The assignment of names was done through a process of lots. A big fur hat,
known as a streimel, was filled with pieces of folded paper, containing
surnames. My cousin's grandfather pulled the surname: KREISSBAUM. Thus, my
cousin felt it was no insult to his heritage to Hebraicize said surname to
KEHAT. Though KREISSBAUM is not a toponym, it was given to my cousin's
grandfather as arbitrarily as my husband's ancestor took the town name
EPSTEIN. A friend's great grandfather sent each of his many sons to
different cities, adjuring them to take different surnames so as to avoid
conscription. Thus my friend has no relatives with his surname: ABRAHAMS, is
not related to other ABRAHAMS, and he has no idea what surnames his cousins
chose or where they went to live. Only the legend remains.

There are other reasons for one to choose a toponym. When the authorities
compelled residents of a given area to take surnames, they often chose the
name of the shtetl in which they lived. They didn't have to move to choose
their town name as their surname. It is equally unlikely that someone was
moving at the time authorities caused this same person to adopt a surname.

For these reasons, the conclusion to Sally's hypothesis, >It is the same way
that someone in the US might say Sam >from Cleveland to differentiate among
the different Sam's working in a place.> does not necessarily follow.

There might be several citizens in a given shtetl who moved there >from the
same, neighboring shtetl. Giving them all the same toponym as surname
doesn't really help their neighbors to distinguish them >from each other, and
yet quite often, this is precisely what did happen: several people would
move >from the same given shtetl, to the same new shtetl. There would have to
be very few people using the same toponym, or only one person using it, to
make it a valid method of distinguishing one person >from another.

Sally wrote:> If Winowski is found in Poland, then it is not likely
shortened >from Klewinowski-if you have seen much Polish, shortening words
was not a high priority there. > It is true that to my American eyes, Polish
looks unwieldy, but unless Sally knows something that I do not, that is no
proof that they tended not to shorten names. I would be interested to hear
her source for this. I do know that I once explored the idea that the
comedian Jan MURRAY was related to me, based on the fact that his original
surname was JANOFSKY- my mpggm’s maiden surname. Though I knew that there
were over 50 towns in Eastern Europe with the name of Janow, I didn’t think
it would hurt to find out if I was related to Jan. I made contact with
MURRAY’s grandson, who found out >from Jan that the surname was JANKOWSKI
before it was JANOFSKY. Here is a case of a Polish sounding name that was
shortened, albeit once the family moved to the good ole USA.

As for Sally's assertion:>Like BRUCKHEIMER could be someone from
Bruckheim-but there is no Bruckheim.> BRUCKHEIMER is likely someone who
lived in a house located near a bridge and there is nothing about the name
that suggests it sounds like a town. However, if Sally knew what town her
family lived in and knew that at the time they lived in that town, there was
one bridge and a house right near it, she might have a house location. But,
heck (!), then again, maybe not.

Varda Epstein

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