Volatile Family Name Use in 18th Century Hamburg... Why? #germany

Alan Ehrlich


I've encountered a puzzling thing regarding my DELLEVIE ancestors, and would
appreciate any explanation you might offer.

Prior to moving to Hamburg in the mid 18th century, the family lived in
Rendsburg for a period of two or three generations.Upon their arrival in
Hamburg, on those occasions where they used a civil (family) name, it's
believed they were called RENDSBURG.

After that, public records show that by latest 1781 they began exclusively
going by the family name DELLEVIE in most if not all areas of their lives,
since >from this date onward DELLEVIE appears in all wedding and birth
entries, as well as in the 1st edition of the Hamburg Address Book (idem
subsequent editions), etc. Additionally, they were well known
Jewelers/silversmiths; and I've quite often come upon 18th century examples
of their production at Christie's, Sotheby's or in other auction houses.

HOWEVER, up until circa 1820, when one of the family members died, the
Hamburg death records "very unsystematically" show the family name as either
DELLEVIE, LEVY or RENDSBURG. BUT the family name inscribed on all the
tombstones (Jewish cemeteries in Altona and Grindel) always exclusively is

I realize that the name DELLEVIE only was officially "officialized" in 1810.
But why all the volatility in the name they used. and why always RENDSBURG
on their headstones? Friendly regards,

Alan Ehrlich, Geneva Switzerland alan.ehrlich@...

Sally Bruckheimer <sallybruc@...>

MODERATOR NOTE: This reply to the question >from Alan Ehrlich,
alan.ehrlich@... was delayed because the sender
did not sign the message with her full name plus city and state
of residence. Please remember to sign all email to this list with
your name and residence information. Thank you. MOD 1 ==========>

The answer to all these name change questions is "they didn't care".
My gg grandmother had 20 children's births registered in a small German town,
and her name is different on each one - close enough to know it was her, but
different. If you spell my name Sallie, I will deny it is me, but our
ancestors didn't quibble, there were lots of variations and diminutives.

They only were called RENDSBERG after they left the town of that name, but
the name was not an inherited family name as we know it today. The surname
was to distinguish Abraham (or whatever) who came >from Rendsberg >from all
the other Abrahams in town (one of my ancestors was Abraham 'the gimp', as
he apparently was known for his limp). After a generation or two, RENDSBERG
would have disappeared in favor of something else, as people forgot where
the family came >from - but the law changed, requiring inherited family names.

If your family became 'famous jewelers', perhaps DELLEVIE, sounded less Jewish
and more French, therefore more cultured, than LEVY. They were Leviim or some
ancestor was named Levi. When inherited family names then followed, they kept

Looking back today, it seems strange, but Jews did not use inherited
family names and only adopted them when it was required by law. Even then,
they didn't use the family name among themselves, and Hebrew inscriptions on
tombstones, to this day, record "Abraham son of Isaac" rarely with a family
name; and the farther back you go with tombstones, the rarer will be the family
name, as it is an adaptation to modern usage.

Sally Bruckheimer, Piscataway, NJ sallybruc@...