Re: How many "first names" did people have? #names

Judith Singer

Generally Eastern European Jews had two given names: a Hebrew one used mostly for religious occasions and a second one that might be Hebrew, Yiddish, or the language of the surrounding populace. Each of those two names, but particularly the second name, generally had multipile variants  such as diminutives (Tsipe, Tsipora, Tsipela, for example, seem to all the same name) and different spellings depending on transliteration. Furthermore, many pepole had nicknames that might refer to a physical characteristic or occupation, for example, that were used in place of or in addition to the second name Nicknames might have been used as surnames within the Jewish community, but Russian law under the Tsars required that a family choose one name and retain it permanently (a law often ignored).


During times of deadly plagues, some parents changed the names of their children to confuse Death.

So in Eastern Europe, it was not unusual for people to end up with three or four names used as given names.

When our ancestors emigrated, many began to use a Western European (usually English) version of their names for interactions with the goyim but retained their original names within their Jewish community. The Western European version of the name was also subject to change at whim. (One relative of mine used the names Etta, Edith, Ethel, Yetta and I think a couple others after arriving in the U.S.)

So, three or four given names was not the norm but it was not unusual, for a variety of reasons.

JewishGen has a couple good articles on this question. 

Good luck - Judith Singer


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