Russian Jewish surnames / question for historians #general
A Tsar Is Born <enchante@...>
Jews did not have surnames in 18th century Poland. The partitioning powers
applied their own laws to the Jews subsequently. In Russia, surnames were
rare for anyone but the nobility, the higher bourgeoisie (a small group)
and foreign immigrants before the 19th century. Tsar Alexander I (1801-25)
appears to be the man who decreed that all his subjects take surnames.
Most Jews' surnames were Germanic or Russian. The exceptions are usually
Cohanim or Levites: Cohen, Cohn, Kahn, Levy, Levitt, Levinson, Levine, etc.
But my family, which always regarded itself as of a certain distinction,
has a Hebrew surname, and we took it in the early 19th century. It exists
in many different transliterations in many different branches of the family
(Yohalem, Yaglom, Jaglom, etc.) But it's all the same Hebrew word.
Does anyone know of cases where Jewish families in the Pale (we lived in
Anipolye or Antopol, in Grodno Gobernya, now Belarus) were allowed to
choose their own surname, and to choose one in Hebrew to boot? What might
have been the circumstances of such a thing? Were we just rich, or had we
some sort of community authority? Or did no one in the ruling classes
really care what the Jews did?
I am interested in discussing this with anyone who has read Russian/Jewish
history of this era, who can tell me of similar cases.
Judith Romney Wegner
But my family, which always regarded itself as of a certain distinction,Dear John,
Your name, Yohalem or Yahalom, intrigues me linguistically. I would like
to know what the name signifies according to your family's tradition. This
of course would depend on whether the letter "h" represents the Hebrew
letter heh or the Hebrew guttural het. If it is a het, then Yahalom (using
precisely those vowels) would mean "he shall dream" -- or simply "he
deams" in some contexts. If it is a heh, then it could be >from the verb
holem meaning to strike (like the clapper of a bell). But neither word
fit any obvious context, unless it is spelled with het and the first name
Joseph runs in your family -- the biblical Joseph is described as a
"dreamer of dreams."
Also, one has to wonder how Yahalom became transmuted into Yohalem (which
grammatically speaking is not a possible word formation in Hebrew.)
Judith Romney Wegner
Irene Newhouse <newhoir@...>
If you read the introduction to Beider's book on Jewish surnames in the
Russian Empire, you'll learn [among many other things] that, other than
decreeing Jews could use no surnames already in use in Russia by non-Jews,
it was pretty much up to the individual & the local Jewish Community what
name got chosen. The registration of surnames was handled by the Jewish
community. A name derived >from Hebrew, of course, was highly
unlikely to be in use already & thus would have been a good candidate.