More on surname adoption #galicia

Suzan Wynne <srwynne@...>

I believe that it is important to distinguish between legislation
and regulations in regard to surname adoption. Legislation
mandated and authorized surname adoption but, as in all
legislation emanating >from the Austrian Parliament, there were
regulations setting out how the legislation would be implemented
.... we have a similar process in the US. It is in the
regulations that the government spelled out precisely how the
process of surname adoption was to be carried out by Austrian
officials or agents in the various parts of the Empire.

I have a copy of the 1877 regulations governing how Jewish vital
records were to be collected and maintained and how the
registrars in each Gemeinde (the official body of Jews elected
to govern Jewish affairs in each Jewish district) to be
nominated by the Gemeinde. It took two years for these
regulations to be finalized. The Gemeinde, itself, was
authorized to develop regulations for how all of their duties
were to be fulfilled, but the pieces of legislation authorizing
the formation and then continuation of the Judische Kultus
Gemeinde, were created by the Parliament and signed by each
of the Emperors in power at the time.

To my knowledge, overseeing surname adoption was not part of
the duty of the Gemeinde....Joseph II, the Emperor who mandated
Jewish surname adoption, had not yet created and signed the
7 May 1789 Judenpatent (Patent of Toleration) that regionalized
the Gemeinde structure in Austrian territories. Prior to its
being regionalized, the Galician Gemeinde was centralized in

The story that Jews were lined up and given simple names like
Weiss, Schwartz, etc. is simply a myth, perhaps originally a
tongue in cheek account that somehow has made its way into the
realm of reality, kind of like the myth that names were changed
at Ellis Island (wish I had a dollar for everytime I've heard
that one!). You only have to look at the vital records >from a
few Gemeinde districts to see the wide range of surnames. Yes,
there were clusters of some names appearing in certain towns
districts but consider the likelihood of families living in
those areas deciding to register together or to select the same
surname as a family. Much more logical.

I doubt very much that rabbis were involved at all in surname
adoption because it is hard to imagine that Gemeinde rabbis
would have approved such unpleasant names for some of their
congregants. More believable is that Austrian officials or
their Polish and Ukrainian agents were in charge of
registration and collection of the fees. Benzion Kaganoff,
author of the classic, A Dictionary of Jewish Names and Their
History, published by Schocken Books in 1977, speculated that
the registration of fancy and pleasant names like Goldstein or
Rosenfeld, might have been the result of some "extra" in the
fee structure.

Suzan Wynne

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