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Where did "Katya" come from? #ukraine #yiddish #russia #names


Gary
 

Going through the letters my mother had translated (plus the couple a few folks here helped with), I now have a mystery. I knew my mother's maternal grandmother's American name was Gussie Squire. The name on some of her immigration documents is Gitel Scvirsci.

However, while the envelopes they came in are addressed to Gussie, the letters themselves address her as "Katya". So now I'm wondering where that came from. Just a nickname? Or is Katya her actual given Russian name and Gitel her given Yiddish (or Hebrew) name, and she just decided to use the latter as her legal name?

That wouldn't necessarily surprise me given I know Gussie, her husband Nathan (Nissen) and my grandmother Tina (Tuva) were chased out of Zhivotov by a pogrom, fled to Kiev, then crossed to Romania and came to the US. So I could see she might want to leave her given Russian name behind. Is that something people commonly did?

Thanks,
Gary
--
Gary Ehrlich
Rockville, MD
SCVIRSCI, Zhivotov, Ukraine; WASHLIKOVSKY/WASHALKOWSKY, SATER, Bialystock, Poland; LIFSHITS/LIFSHITZ, GOROVITZ, Ufa, Russia


Sally Bruckheimer
 

"I knew my mother's maternal grandmother's American name was Gussie Squire. The name on some of her immigration documents is Gitel Scvirsci.

However, while the envelopes they came in are addressed to Gussie, the letters themselves address her as "Katya". "

My ggrandmother was one of 20 children born to a couple in a tiny town. On the 20 records, the mother's name was different on each one. She was Rachel, Regina, Reis, every R name imaginable - except Rivka - and Teresa. Gussie, in English was Gitel in Yiddish, Katya in Russian, perhaps. 

Women didn't have a legal name in Europe, and not in the US until Social Security made one name 'right'. Women had no rights unless their husbands died,and they were 'rich'; women were the property of their fathers until, literally, given to their husbands.

Sally Bruckheimer
Princeton, NJ


David Mason
 

In Russian, Катя (“Katya”) is the most common diminutive of Екатерина (“Catherine”). 

 

Being subject to pogroms as well as official discrimination, Jews apparently assumed conventional Russian names as disguise.  For example the family I’m trying to reconnect were branded “class enemies” in the time of Stalin, so they moved from Kiev region in Ukraine to Omsk, Siberia and changed the surname from Kagan (Cohen).  I heard this chapter of family history from “Aleksandr Mikhailovich Suvorov” which is about as Russian a name as one could possibly invent!

 

Emigrants to America apparently have felt freer to be more openly Jewish.

 

David Mason

 


Jill Whitehead
 

Here in the UK, my aunt was born Bertha Gertrude in early 20th century Liverpool. Her cousin, born in North Wales in 1890, but who went to the USA on marriage was called Bertha Kate. Clearly they were both named after the same relative, and Gertrude and Kate were both from Gittel. I never did find out who they were named after but probably someone in the old country in  Suwalki Gubernia in NE Poland.

JIll Whitehead, Surrey, UK


David Goldman
 

Hi, Gary. Katya was probably the Russian nickname, referring to the name Yekaterina, while her Jewish name was Gittel and in the US would be Gussie. Jews often had a Russian name in addition to their Jewish name. My grandfather was Yitzchak Yosef, but had the nickname of Yonya.  Similarly someone named Moshe would generically be known by the nickname of Misha. I had a great grandfather named Zvi Hirsh. His Russian nickname was Grisha. His wife was Bella, but her Russian nickname was Betya or Betochka,
David Goldman
NYC


Simon Zelman
 

Most Jews in Ukraine, starting around the late 1800s, had a Russian name that they would go by in dealings with the state and with non-Jews (and starting in the 1910s-1920s, with Jews as well). The Yiddish name was usually reserved for the immediate family. My great-grandmother was born Udel, registered as Adelya as her Russian name, and went by Olya (nickname for Olga) with most people, including her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Girsh would go by Grisha (a nickname for Grigoriy), Khaim would become Yefim, Yankel would be Yakov and therefore Yasha as the nickname, Moishe would be Misha (a nickname for Mikhail), my grandfather Rakhmiel goes by Misha as well. All to say that Gitel was your great-grandmother’s Yiddish name and Katya was most likely the name she went by (but she didn’t necessarily go by Yekaterina ever, the name for which Katya is a nickname).

Simon Zelman
San Francisco, CA


Yehuda Berman
 

There is the official name, the one on all the documents, there is the Jewish name, the one their parents gave them and used to be called up to the torah if male and on their ketuba (aka kesiba) [=Jewish wedding certificate], and the name they went by on the street. My mother and her siblings went by their Russian names which were not necessarily their official names. My uncle's Hebrew name was Eliyahu, his official American name was Louis, but the name he went by with family and friends was Alec.  When I studied Russian I learned that Alec is how the Russian name spelled Oleg in English is actually pronounced. 
--
Yehuda Berman