Do you find the name Chaia/Chaja/Chaya instead of Chana, and vice versa, in English transliterated from Russian (cyrillic) hand written documents? #russia #names

angel kosfiszer

I am puzzled by the female name Chaia/Chaja/Chaya sometimes showing up as Chana in  English transliterated from Russian hand written documents, and  I would like to know if other people have had similar experience.
My theory on why this is happening is that while in Latin and Hebrew hand written characters n, i ,y and j are substantially different graphs, that is not the case in the Russian handwritten alphabet character set; n and i/j/y are very similar graphs in Russian, and therefore i/j/y may be mistaken for n, and vice versa,  when reading a Russian handwritten document.
Would like to have your comments.

Angel Kosfiszer

Richardson, Texas

Miriam Bulwar David-Hay

Actually, this is true in Polish too. Often the letter n is written cursively “upside down” so it looks like a u or an i, making it hard to see whether the name is Chana or Chaia.

Also faced the same issue with the male names Icek and Josek. Because of the way the first letters are written, it can sometimes be hard to tell which name it’s supposed to be. 

All the best,
Miriam Bulwar David-Hay,
Raanana, Israel.
Professional journalist, writer, editor, proofreader.
Professional translator (Hebrew/Yiddish to English).
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Email: miriambdh@...

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Odeda Zlotnick

On Sat, Jun 25, 2022 at 05:41 PM, <kosfiszer8@...> wrote:
My theory on why this is happening is that while in Latin and Hebrew hand written characters n, i ,y and j are substantially different graphs,
This is an incorrect theory as far as Hebrew is concerned.  

All it takes is a little bit of sloppiness, a bad nib on your fountain pen or feather, or a bad scan - and the middle characters in red can be mistaken for each other. 

Odeda Zlotnick
Jerusalem, Israel.

Russ Maurer

The theory doesn't hold up, because Chaya in Russian is not generally written Хаиа as the writer assumes. It is written Хая, which is not easily mistaken for Хана (Chana). The Russian letter я is transliterated as ya, ja, or ia depending on the transliteration system.

That said, it is certainly the case that many handwritten documents are messy to begin with, and their condition deteriorates with age. Ambiguities and mistakes in reading them are inevitable.

Russ Maurer
Pepper Pike, OH

Judith Singer

Yes. I have found Chaia/Chaja/Chaya frequently appear as Chana in transliterations. I do not know why this happens, but sloppiness on the part of the original recorder and human error by the original recorder, the person who did the transliteration, and if different, the person who input the data could each have caused the error. 

Judith Singer
researching Charney, Chernuski, and Charneliatze and variations of each in Lithuania

Michael Sharp

In the UK it may also have been a combination of largely uneducated border officials, etc and the heavy guttural accent of the immigrants. My great great grandmother Michle Chaya was recorded as Sara on her children's birth certificates in the UK 
Michael Sharp
Manchester UK


The name Chaia/Chaya et al. in Cyrillic, written as Хая, only has three letters.

The name Chana in Cyrillic, written as Хана, has four letters, as does Chasya (Хася), also a not-uncommon given name in late 19th-century Russia.  There is the possibility that the letter н /n/ would be elided or made difficult to read in the case of sloppy, hurried or very idiosyncratic penmanship, but otherwise the length of the written name should be visually discernible right away.

I could see two possible sources for this error:  the first would be a reading error on the part of the person transliterating or transcribing;  the second would be where other sources show a name as Chaia and the source in question shows Chana, possibly due to the recording clerk's disinterest or unfamiliarity with the name.  I have an example in my own family, where my great-grandmother Chasya's name was listed in an 1875 Kyiv family list as Chaia, alongside other similar errors.  This was a document likely compiled by a Russian not familiar with Jewish names who wrote what he thought he heard.

J. Novis
Longmeadow, MA
Researching NOVITSKIY (Kyiv Gubernia), OLSZTAJN (Łódź area), GEYMAN/HYMAN (Ashmyany), POMERANTZ (Kapyl', Navahrudak), POTASNIK/LEVY (who knows?)

Susan Watchman

Related question - I have seen a number of records for relatives from the late 1800s and early 1900s on JRI Poland that had Chaya or Chaim in front of the expected name.   A cousin very recently told me that people, particularly if they were Orthodox,  would put those names on records if the named person was in ill heath or for other reason to bring "life" and ward of bad luck.  Has any one else heard that?  

Susan Watchman
Phoenix, Az

Relly coleman

Yes. It is a tradition that is also followed by the mizrachi jewish community even to this day.  Changing ones name to chaim/chaya or adding these names when someone is gravely ill.

another source of name confusion:  Misha in Russia is nickname for michael.  Misha sounds similar to Moshe. This is how my brother whose name was Michael ended up on some post war documents as Moshe.  To add to the confusion, his name later when he was ill was changed to Haim. So the name on his matzevah bears little resemblance to his name on other documents.

Relly Coleman


I  thank yuu all for this chat Now I understand why my grandmother was Chia Esther./she had the name Chia added on when she was sick. (apparently stillin Lavia) and then in the USA Esher Anne. My rndfher's siter was Chia.When the family immigrated from Lithuania to England , she became Ida. Afterwards , in the USA she became Janey.
Esther Rechtschner,Kibbutz EinZurim, ISRAEL
researching:Rechtschafner,Pass, H(G)erschman