Name adoption #galicia

Suzan Wynne <srwynne@...>

Ervin Spinner asked some good questions about name adoption,
a particular interest of mine.
The process of name adoption was governed by regulations.
There were actually several legislative attempts to compel Jews
to adopt surnames and regulations accompanied each piece of
legislation. In 1997-1998, when I was writing my first book about
doing family research about Galician Jews, I wrote to
institutions in Vienna and scholars elsewhere in an effort to
track down the regulations.
Of particular interest to me was the process for registering
a surname. Were the names taken or given? Surely there was a fee
because Jews seemed to be charged fees for everything except
breathing. I suspected that if a person wasn't able to pay the
fee or was resistant to registering a surname, the family was
given a surname with an unpleasant meaning. On the other hand,
some names had very pleasant meanings. Did this imply that some
money or other process was involved in the registration of such
One line in my family was named "Langsam" which means slowly
in German and I assumed that my very poor ancestor had been slow
in appearing before the authorities with his fee in hand.
I never found anyone familiar with the details of the
regulations, though there was a fair amount of speculation in the
replies I received that tended to confirm scattered references in
books about names and histories about the Jews of Galicia written
by Galician scholars 100 years after name adoption. A small
number of Galician families had non-German surnames based in
Polish or Ukrainian. This was because, if a family already had a
fixed surname at the time the name adoption law was in effect,
the family was not required to change the name. The requirement
was primarily related to the government's need to find a family
for the purposes of taxation and military service.
We know that name adoption involved a government agent
located within each administrative district. As to why certain
surnames seem to more common in certain districts relate to the
influence of the agent and his discretion in the process. There
must have been that would be a goldmine!

Suzan Wynne

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