Re: Questioning the theory of surnames in the Pale #belarus


Working with many thousands of Jewish names >from all shtetls of Minsk=20
Gubernia I came to well expected conclusion that there is no uniformity=20
in way of the names origin.

Some names are old and were in use before 1805-1811. Usually the same=20
names you can find in the records of that time in locations far apart=20
from each other.
Other names were certainly local and =E2=80=9Cnew=E2=80=9D. Many of them cou=
ld be found=20
only in one or few close to each other shtetls. Many of them have=20
Slavic roots, suffixes, and endings but commonly could be Yiddish or=20
even Hebrew.

Comparing Jewish records in Minsk Gubernia in 19th century for
different shtetls and uyezds (districts) I see that naming wasn't the
result of Russian Imperial policies but indeed way of how local
authorities proceed with the reform. There is entire spectrum of
situations one can find in Minsk Gubernia and possibly in other areas
of Russian Empire.

In some shtetls you can find in the census of 1811 two families with the
same surnames and in other shtetls 1-3 names cover most of Jewish

Possibly it means that in some places local authorities decided that
each family suppose to have distinctive family name and in other places
they let people use their traditional names.

In the last scenario the records usually shows that small shtetls
comprised >from people belonged to a few extended families. The same is
true for my experience with non-Jewish people in Belarusian villages as

In some place you can find that all names in local Jewish community
were of Russian types - and it was in line with standardization of the
name in Ruissian Empire, similar was done for Muslim population and
others. It was very different >from official 19 century policy that not
allowed Jews to have given name used by Russian Christians. But in many
communities Jewish people adapted mostly Yiddish last names - possibly
local authorities didn't care about.

Another general rule I found for names that are derived >from location:
as smaller was shtetl (Jewish community of the shtetl) as closer to it
could be found people with related surname and otherwise.

It means for example that VILENSKY lived usually farther >from Vilna
than KLETSKY >from Kletsk. It is natural: around Vilna there were many
people >from this big community and to call somebody VILENSKY wasn't
very personal; but - far >from Kletsk not many people knew about Kletsk
and the name KLETSKY wouldn't be descriptive enough. Then VILENSKY was
good name for people >from Vilna who during name assignment lived far
>from Vilna where not many vilners lived and KLETSKY was good name for
people >from Kletsk who lived that time not far >from Kletsk (where
people know about Kletsk).

Of course as any such rules this one will have exceptions as well.

Vitaly Charny
Birmingham, AL

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