Earliest Use of Surnames in Europe/Romania? #general #romania #names

Theo Rafael

Bennett Muraskin compiled in 2012 some of the origins and meanings of Ashkenazi last names. The photos and links inside the article are dead however:

This version of the article is visually more pleasing but incomplete:

Theo Rafael

Roger Lustig

Theo Raphael writes:
"Bennett Muraskin compiled in 2012 some of the origins and meanings of
Ashkenazi last names."

This article was riddled with errors, mistranslations and
misunderstandings. Even the "corrected" version has quite a few errors,
and both are highly incomplete. Nor does the article actually address
the question: *How* did Jews choose surnames?

Many books have been written on this subject, starting with Leopold
Zunz's _Die Namen der Juden_ in 1837. In recent times, Avotaynu Press
has published books about surnames in the Pale of Settlement, Russian
Poland, Galicia, Germany, Prague and other places. It's a complicated
subject with answers that depend on time and place.

Roger Lustig

Princeton, NJ

research coordinator, GerSIG


One has to make a distinction when referring to Romania since it was different for areas which became part of  modern Romania in 1918 — Transylvania, Banat, Maramures, Bucovina all part of Austria Hungary —  or Bessarabia - part of Russia. For the Old Kingdom, the most relevant is Moldova since most Ashkenazi Jews living in Wallachia (Bucuresti) , may have originally arrived from  Moldova.  The vast majority of the Jews came to Moldova in early mid 1800 from former Poland lands, primarily Galicia (then Austria), Podolia (then Russia), Bukovina and Bessarabia. As such, they must have had already surnames from the country of origin. While surnames were required in Moldova/Romania since 1860s, since Jews were not  citizens, those laws were practically not enforced. Therefore I see a phenomenon where the original surnames may not have been used by all, possibly, most Jews. Instead there are many occupational names (Romanian) and patronymics (X sin Y). There is a variability of names found in civil records, e.g. a tailor may be referred as “Croitoru” and later as “Nadler” and who knows what the original Ashkenazi name was. A money changer may have been named (a turkish origin name)  “Zarafu” and his children became “Vecsler”. For Jews which kept their Austrian or Russian received names, A Beider reference books are the best resource. But is may be unknowable, whether someone’s surname in the 20th century reflect an earlier surname or one acquired later.

Luc Radu
Great Neck, NY

Jill Whitehead

When surnames were introduced depended on who the occuping power of the country was and their policy in this regard. In my ancestral area of the Suwalki Lomza gubernias in NE Poland on the borders with Lithuania, East Prussia and what is now Belarus (where the border kept changing), surnames were introduced in the 1820's and 1830's, when new rulers took over after various wars, land grabs and border changes. All my family's ancestors came from this area. 

Some of the names chosen by my family were Brin (said to be named after Brno in Moravia, where they may have come from), Rubenstein or Berenstein (which means red stone after amber which was the major gemstone found in the Baltic area), Serwianski after Lake Serwy, Karpowitz (after the shtetl of Carpowicze), Ceglarski which has a meaning to do with brickwork/building, Karobelnick which means a pedlar, Guttenberg which just means pretty hill, and Plotnovsky which according to whom you listen to could mean a person from Plotsk or a potter or a metal worker. 

As a number of these opted for their patronymic nanes on migration, some of the surnames were shortlived e.g. Ceglarski which was reverted to Abrahams/Abrams.

Jill Whitehead, Surrey, UK