Re: adopting surnames in the Pale: one story #general

Roger Lustig

It's an interesting story indeed, and Beider's point is well-taken: we
only have results, i.e., the surnames themselves. Few people documented
the process of selecting their own surname. I wonder: what does
Beider's book on Russian-Jewish surnames have to say about this one?
(Especially the brand-new 2nd edition...)

As one recovering musicologist to another, let me comment on what you've
provided. All of what follows is meant in earnest, without irony, etc.
In short, I intend to sound like a grad student at a conference.

First, there are matters of time and place. Why the 1830s? Was this
event specific to Antopol, or did it happen elsewhere? Are there any
records that reflect this? (Also, I suspect that more foisting than
hoisting went on.)

Next, there's the issue of bribes. This is the core of the "Ekelnamen"
(horrible names) trope or meme or whatever: the notion that Jews who
couldn't pay, got nasty names. Did this ever happen? Evidence is
lacking--especially in the form of the supposed nasty names. (Receipts
would be too much to ask.)

Now, after paying up, these Jews propose to pick a name at *random*?
And the authorities--already identified as malicious, in that they're
effectively extorting money in exchange for "nice" names--will go for
that? Note that the probability that these Russian authorities knew any
Hebrew is vanishingly small. But a bribe makes them willing to stand by
while these <insert epithet here> choose a name in a language they don't
understand? For all the authorities know, it could mean "The Czar's
mother wears army boots" in the <repeat epithet>s' inscrutable Hebrew.

(OK--I wouldn't have said that last part at a conference.)

Seems like an awful lot of work to go to for a surname, especially when
it didn't necessarily signify all that much to the bearer. After all,
around the shtetl one would be known by the same name as before. I
wonder: what are the other words in that passage that might have been
chosen? Did others in Antopol or elsewhere choose some of those words
as surnames?

Finally, looking at the 288 Antopol surnames in the Family Finder, I
don't immediately see anything that would distinguish them >from surnames
anywhere else--nor do I see many that aren't within the main currents of
Jewish surname sources. Mind you, I'm willing to be proven wrong.

Roger Lustig
Princeton, NJ
...who, unlike Bob, never wrote that dissertation...

kos@... wrote:

One of the issues mentioned by Alexander Beider in his wonderful talk
last week at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical
Societies was the lack of documentation concerning adoption of
surnames. We generally don't know how it was done.

I had a long meeting with someone tonight concerning genealogy, whose
family comes (in part) >from the town Antopol in Belarus. He said that
most everyone with his surname (and its variants) were relatives, and
that due to longevity and his discussions with them (his grandmother
died in 2001, at age 101, she could remember people born in the middle
of the 19th century). He then told me of how his family acquired its
surname of YOHALEM [also JAGLOM and YAHALOM].

Even though the decree went out in the first decade of the 19th
century, Jews were slow to adopt surnames. Finally, sometime in the
1830s [I presumed it must have been coincident with the 1834-5 census
in Russia], Russian officials went around town and forcibly hoisted
surnames on the men. Since this man's ancestors always viewed
themselves as being somewhat aristocratic and above the "regulars"
(e.g. their first language was Russian, not Yiddish), they argued with
the officials since they didn't want a Yiddish/German sounding
surname. After paying them off, the ancestors suggested to the
officials that they could find something appropriate in the Torah.
The officials agreed, so they opened to Shemot (Exodus), to the
description of the vestments of Aaron. They did some kind of trick
where they selected a word at random, and the choice fell upon the
Hebrew work Yahalom - one of the stones in the breastplate worn by
Aaron and all subsequent high priests.

[This is the same family as the film maker Henry JAGLOM as well as
Anna HEILMAN, author of "Never Far Away: The Auschwitz Chronicles of
Anna Heilman."]

I thought it was an interesting story.

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