Re: Why Various Spellings of A Family Name #names


m.hoffman@...
 

Ditto Sally.... "spelling doesn't count".... and people "spelled what they heard"....

There's lots of possible scenarios where your multiplicity of variants might arise -- but here's a common one....

Very often, your perfectly literate-in-Yiddish ancestors were in the situation of being interviewed by an English-speaking clerk -- at the marriage license office, when registering a birth or a death at the hospital, by a census taker, .... -- and the clerk wrote as well as they could what they heard, but your ancestor couldn't read English so even if they could have looked over the document it wouldn't have made a difference.

You mention that in your family each sibling had a different rendition of the name, but often you'll see these kinds of variant spellings for the same individual in different contexts -- for example, in subsequent census tabulations, or different transliterations of the same name on each new child's birth certificate.... Often it's just a simple substitution for a vowel -- as in your case -- or a single consonant substitution, Hotash for Hodash, for example.

As Sally points out, you also get the artifacts of a Yiddish accent heard by an English ear -- often that will account for spellings that substitute one vowel for another -- or as in Sally's example of "w" going to "v"....

But often, again like Sally's example, there are apparently mysterious transformations that are actually quite accountable, just as Sally shows. I see these all the time with my clients -- it's one of the things that makes my work interesting, given that I have an academic background in Linguistics.

Yale mentions his example of a Boston-accented clerk adding that "Boston r" in Akabas > Arkabes -- I found my husband's great-grandfather in the 1910 census in Boston as Salyer -- same "Boston r" added to his name Selya.... along with the very typical vowel transformation from a spoken Yiddish "e" to an English-heard "a".....

In trying to suss out these changes, as Sally says, it helps to say the name with the relevant German, Russian, or Yiddish accent -- when I'm trying to think about what a Yiddish name might sound like, I can evoke my Grandma Pauline's Russian Yiddish pronunciation and it often does the trick....

By the way, this mantra of "spelling doesn't count" isn't just applicable to our eastern European ancestors, or other immigrant populations.... My American genealogy colleagues have the same issues with American names, especially prior to the early 20th century, because most people before then, especially in rural populations, were illiterate even in English, so their names were also subject to being spelled the way the clerk or the census taker heard them, and multiple variants are just as common for them, and pose the same kinds of problems in sorting out who was who....

Meredith Hoffman
Professional Genealogy Research & Training
GenerationsWeb / Plymouth, MA

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