I've noticed that in many old vital records and specifically in theThere could be so many reasons for usage of the mother's last name that I am
including a message I posted in JewishGen years ago. At the time I
summarized possible motives for different areas, dates, and situations,
after receiving many mails in response to a similar question about use of
the mother's name....Sorry for the late reply, I am catching up after an
"Thank you to all who helped me gain insight on the many reasons behind
surname changes in immigrants and use of maternal name. I wish to thank all
who took their time to answer. It was my first posting in JewishGen and I
felt the added strength of individual and collective knowledge and
Here is a summary of many varied facts and theories mentioned by Genners for
different dates, areas, and circumstances - different >from the unfairly
blamed clerk in Ellis Island!
They could help to look into other cases and pinpoint the reason for the
change in names:
+Different policies in terms of recording Jewish marriages and legislating
use of surnames among Jews.
+Jewish marriages not being recognized, and children being given documents
with their mothers maiden name
+Religious Marriage considered sufficient. Never bothering to register a
civil marriage with the authorities, with the option for children of taking
+Having religious marriages, in general not registering until after the
first child was born, and scoffing at the notations of illegitimacy in the
eyes of the Polish government as of no consequence at all.
+Not being able to afford the fee for a civil marriage - children born of
the religious marriage had to take the surname of the mother
+Only one marriage permit issued per Jew family descendance under
Austro-Hungarian law, and only if a significant fee was paid. So marriage of
more than one children would not be recorded by the civil authorities and
children of such couples would be listed in the Austro-Hungarian metrical
records as illegitimate.
+Times when governments in Poland and in Hungary did not allow Jews to marry
more than once (even if his spouse was deceased). In that case, they were
married only by Jewish ceremony and the children of this second (etc.)
marriage bore the family name of the mother.
+Civil marriages being conducted in front of a cross. Jews who refused to
marry in front of a cross were technically illegitimate
+Marriages performed elsewhere and not formally registered in cities where
children were born
+Many people in the United States, Irish in particular, had a particular
dislike for Russians, or what they perceived as Russian sounding names...
Consequently, many Russian or East-European Jews Germanized their names.
+Thinking that having a close maternal relative with the same surname in the
States would make it easier to be admitted if using the maternal surname
+Desire to avoid the authorities for some reason, probably connected with
military service - either to avoid conscription or to evade punishment after
+In Russia outside the Kingdom of Poland, Jewish men except the first born
were draftable and sometimes not permitted to marry - so baby boys were
never registered or sometimes registered as the child of another couple with
+Inherited surnames were still relatively new and not especially desired by
Jews since they were forced on them by the government in an effort to keep
track of who was who (and draftable, etc.)
+A Jew emmigrating to the US may give no second thought to getting rid of a
name forced on him by the Czar.
+Inconsistent use amongst European Jews of what we consider to be "surnames"
(family names uniformly reflecting the paternal line) until the 19th century
as the earliest.
+Marriages governed by religious law until fairly recently (typically the
19th century) with individual names recorded in official documents being a
totally different question.
+In 20th century not recognition of the state or synagogue as a power proper
for marriage authorization, not for reasons related to religion, but for
+Need to be sponsored by a family member in order to be accepted as an
immigrant, and pretending to be related to the sponsor using papers in the
+Jews who needed a surname often used the wife's name if they were (as often
occured) living with the wife's family.
+Men marrying into a well known Rabbinical family taking the father-in-law's
+Men going into their father-in-law's profession, and the family's name
changing according to that profession
+Anglicization, easier spelling or pronounciation, and even choosing a name
more in their liking, and ease in the States to "call yourself anything you
+Travelling under the mother's maiden name and resuming the father's name on
+Travels under the mother's maiden name being thus noted by the authorities
on their certificate of arrival or naturalization papers.
Thank you very much for all these comments - hope they help and did not skip
Buenos Aires, Argentina