German SIG #Germany Re: Question about a name before Jews had surnames #germany

lutz petzold <lutzhpetzold@...>

Lin, here is what I know:

[Moderator note: when no other source is
cited, message content should be understood to
be the writer's opinion.
Other * opinions * regarding Cohan (and other spellings) traditions
should be discussed off list.
Only Messages citing authoritative sources on Jewish and civil
naming traditions and rules in Germany will be considered
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Cohan was always a last name. I think it merely meant to the local
community, the Cohan himself. Traditionally to be Cohan, the father had
to be a Cohan, and the son might be a Cohan if he could complete Cohan
training and be ordained. It's safe to say not every Cohan's son became
a Cohan himself because it took more then being born the son of a Cohan.
So, the name Cohan has a onetime name. The first name traditionally
was a given name, not at birth, but a name the parents gave when a child
was growing up and based on their body language. Animal characteristics
were common for boys, flowers for girls and birds for girls. A
courageous or friendly child could be named a Herz, a boys boy could be
called a Baer, a pretty girl a Blumle (diminuative flower). The Jews
also used the diminuative form of a first name by adding an 'le' or just
'l', usually for girls. People were not all that original in those
days, and there was a tradition of honoring deceased family members, so
the same first names were widely recirculated. How did they prevent
confusion among all the same named relatives? They had nicknames in the
immediate family, to tell them apart. It was common in Europe that
when adults made a name for themselves outside their village, that
another name would be added to prevent confusion (there would be many
Baer's and cohans in the state). Usually that was the name of the town.
Cohans in particular were typically known outside the local area, since
there was one Cohan for a locale, not many Cohans, so the name of the
town would be added to their name, like Brandeis for the Cohan of
Brandeis (Bohemia). This was all losey goosey, until formal civil
registration became the law, and everyone (Jews and non-Jews) had to
come up with a last name, as well as first name. Non-Jews were recorded
with their church which sometime in the middle-ages required a first and
last name for organizational reasons), but synagogues did not have that
tradition/requirement, so when mandatory birth/marriage/death civil
registry became the law, the head of the family decided what name to use
and sometimes the local registrar decided on a whim when he wrote down
the name >from what he thought he heard the registrant say. In those
days they all spoke dialects, there was no standard education, and
generally only the clergy or town clerks could read and write the
language of the country, or they improvised.

My take on the comment >from your excentric friend is, about Baer meaning
'born', this is something new to me, but if I had to search for an
explanation, I do not think it would be far fetched because in the
German language a woman gives birth to a child the term used is
'gebaeren'. The English word 'born' or 'birth' has the same roots. In
German it would be 'Geburt' and the verb 'gebaeren'. Yiddish commonly
shortenend words into the colloquial to make it roll off the tongue.
That is common among all local German speakers. High German was created
to standardized the language away >from local dialects and habit, so they
all could understand each other throughout the country.

Lutz Petzold -

On Dec 30, 2017, Lin Herz <> wrote:
My 4x great grandfather's name was Baer Cohn. He was born and
died in Schwarzenau. I'm guessing he was probably was born
between 1720 something and 1740 something since his son, Herz Baer was
born in 1768. . (I don't have their second names capitalized as
they are patronymics.) [Moderator comment: That's right.]

I don't understand the name Baer Cohn. Could his father's
first name have been Cohn? Our Herz family are Cohains, but was Cohn
or Cohain ever used as a first name?

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