Why Various Spellings of A Family Name #names


Carl Kaplan
 

My mother's paternal side came from Kolbuszowa in Galicia. My great-grandfather's surname was Hoffert. However, looking at records for his newly discovered siblings show various spellings of the surname, Hoffort and Hoffart. Given they all lived in NYC, I am curious if anyone has ever heard WHY this happened.  I know this is common, and there are many transliterations of a name from Yiddish, but I have never heard any reasons why various members of the same immediate family chose different spellings. I know I won't "solve" this in my own family, but am very interested in the possibilities. Thanks in advance.
--
Carl Kaplan

KAPLAN Minsk, Belarus
EDELSON, EDINBURG Kovno, Lithuania
HOFFERT, BIENSTOCK< BIENENSTOCK Kolbuszowa, Galicia
STEINBERG, KLINGER, WEISSBERG, APPELBERG Bukaczowce, Galicia


Sally Bruckheimer
 

"My great-grandfather's surname was Hoffert. However, looking at records for his newly discovered siblings show various spellings of the surname, Hoffort and Hoffart. Given they all lived in NYC, I am curious if anyone has ever heard WHY this happened."

My second rule of genealogy is that spelling doesn't count. People, up into the 20th century spelled what they heard, and immigrants couldn't spell English, even if they thought one spelling was right. My grandmother's birth record in NYC had her mother's maiden name Livingston - but it was Löwenstein; say it with a German accent and listen with an English ear, you get Livingston. You have to consider all the variants of your surname when you search, so use 'Sounds Like' or wild cards whenever you can. Soundex was made because of this as well.

Sally Bruckheimer
Princeton, NJ


binyaminkerman@...
 

I've wondered if it could be that new arrivals asked native English speakers or those who had been in the country longer and had better command of the language for help in transliterating their names. If different members of the family got different opinions from separate helpers it could have lead to variations of family names.
This is a theory, I have nothing that backs it up. It just makes sense to me.

Binyamin Kerman
Baltimore MD


Peter Cohen
 

My mother's maiden name was TUROFF, but her father was TUROF. Both lived in Brooklyn. My grandfather lived 52 years after he came to the US so there was plenty of time to make adjustments if either thought it was necessary.

Go figure... Any attempt at explaining it would be pure speculation.
--
Peter Cohen
California


Adelle Gloger
 

This discussion has centered around variant spellings of surnames. It isn't just spellings, it could also be pronunciation of that name.
 My late mother-in-law who arrived in NYC in 1906 (8 years old) showed up on the 1910 US Census, and on her naturalization documents in the early 1940s indicating the name with which she entered  the country was HAMSHANSKY.  For years I searched that name, and came up empty handed.
 
Years ago on one of the JewishGen digests someone, in general, suggested repeating the name with, in this case, a Russian/Yiddish accent. I did just that and found, not only my mother-in-law and her brothers, but two older sisters who had arrived here several years earlier. The name was -- CHRAMZENKE. When I found the passenger list, that was the name listed. Incidentally, somewhere the family name became ORCHEN.  Go figure!!
 
Adelle Weintraub Gloger
Cleveland, Ohio
agloger@...


YaleZuss@...
 

It may also have something to do with local accents.  One of my Akabas ancestors, who died in Boston, had her name listed as Arkabes on her death certificate: the "r" is the famous "Boston r" that appears elsewhere after disappearing from words like "pahk ya cah in Hahvahd yahd."
 
Yale Zussman


m.hoffman@...
 

Ditto Sally.... "spelling doesn't count".... and people "spelled what they heard"....

There's lots of possible scenarios where your multiplicity of variants might arise -- but here's a common one....

Very often, your perfectly literate-in-Yiddish ancestors were in the situation of being interviewed by an English-speaking clerk -- at the marriage license office, when registering a birth or a death at the hospital, by a census taker, .... -- and the clerk wrote as well as they could what they heard, but your ancestor couldn't read English so even if they could have looked over the document it wouldn't have made a difference.

You mention that in your family each sibling had a different rendition of the name, but often you'll see these kinds of variant spellings for the same individual in different contexts -- for example, in subsequent census tabulations, or different transliterations of the same name on each new child's birth certificate.... Often it's just a simple substitution for a vowel -- as in your case -- or a single consonant substitution, Hotash for Hodash, for example.

As Sally points out, you also get the artifacts of a Yiddish accent heard by an English ear -- often that will account for spellings that substitute one vowel for another -- or as in Sally's example of "w" going to "v"....

But often, again like Sally's example, there are apparently mysterious transformations that are actually quite accountable, just as Sally shows. I see these all the time with my clients -- it's one of the things that makes my work interesting, given that I have an academic background in Linguistics.

Yale mentions his example of a Boston-accented clerk adding that "Boston r" in Akabas > Arkabes -- I found my husband's great-grandfather in the 1910 census in Boston as Salyer -- same "Boston r" added to his name Selya.... along with the very typical vowel transformation from a spoken Yiddish "e" to an English-heard "a".....

In trying to suss out these changes, as Sally says, it helps to say the name with the relevant German, Russian, or Yiddish accent -- when I'm trying to think about what a Yiddish name might sound like, I can evoke my Grandma Pauline's Russian Yiddish pronunciation and it often does the trick....

By the way, this mantra of "spelling doesn't count" isn't just applicable to our eastern European ancestors, or other immigrant populations.... My American genealogy colleagues have the same issues with American names, especially prior to the early 20th century, because most people before then, especially in rural populations, were illiterate even in English, so their names were also subject to being spelled the way the clerk or the census taker heard them, and multiple variants are just as common for them, and pose the same kinds of problems in sorting out who was who....

Meredith Hoffman
Professional Genealogy Research & Training
GenerationsWeb / Plymouth, MA


M Thatcher
 

My ancestors family name has so far been found to be spelt wrong De Fratis, Defrytis and so on this has made it very difficult to trace the family back to their origins in Europe.

 


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--
MALCOLM THATCHER


Diane Jacobs
 

I had the same problem. My family was Singman in NYC and Washington DC . They arrived in 1888 from Vilna as Schimkov but with the help of a native Russian who suggested the name Sinko I was able to find the many extended family using The All Lithuania Database from Gelvonai, Sirvintos and Jonava. I am now finding the living descendants of those who came to the US and now live in NYC, Memphis, Baltimore, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and more.
Unfortunately, even Yad Vashem produced results.

Diane Jacobs


On Mar 18, 2021, at 4:20 PM, Adelle Gloger via groups.jewishgen.org <agloger=AOL.COM@...> wrote:


This discussion has centered around variant spellings of surnames. It isn't just spellings, it could also be pronunciation of that name.
 My late mother-in-law who arrived in NYC in 1906 (8 years old) showed up on the 1910 US Census, and on her naturalization documents in the early 1940s indicating the name with which she entered  the country was HAMSHANSKY.  For years I searched that name, and came up empty handed.
 
Years ago on one of the JewishGen digests someone, in general, suggested repeating the name with, in this case, a Russian/Yiddish accent. I did just that and found, not only my mother-in-law and her brothers, but two older sisters who had arrived here several years earlier. The name was -- CHRAMZENKE. When I found the passenger list, that was the name listed. Incidentally, somewhere the family name became ORCHEN.  Go figure!!
 
Adelle Weintraub Gloger
Cleveland, Ohio
agloger@...

--
Diane Jacobs, Somerset, New Jersey


sharon yampell
 

I have numerous instances on my tree where there are various spellings of the family’s last name; including one where there at least a dozen different variations…  This actually can be helpful when you see first names in a family that all look like they could be your family even if the last name does not appear to the be the one you have been searching for.  I have found using the more unique  spellings to help me find the other unique spellings…if the first names, time periods, and locations seems right, don’t get hung up because the last name is not exactly how you THINK it should be…

 

Sharon F. Yampell

Voorhees, New Jersey

 

From: M Thatcher via groups.jewishgen.org
Sent: Friday, March 19, 2021 7:00 AM
To: main@...
Subject: Re: [JewishGen.org] Why Various Spellings of A Family Name

 

My ancestors family name has so far been found to be spelt wrong De Fratis, Defrytis and so on this has made it very difficult to trace the family back to their origins in Europe.

 

 

Virus-free. www.avg.com


--
MALCOLM THATCHER

 

 


EdrieAnne Broughton
 

On top of the reasons Meredith Hoffman gives for spelling variations, you can add 21st Century transcriptions of 19th Century penmanship.  My husband has Serings and Serrings that are often interpreted as Lering and Lerring.  If you go to the page of the census or marriage and actually see the document you can tell the difference.  The initial loop of the S starts on the bottom line while the L starts halfway up, otherwise the letters are identical.  You have to search both letter versions....then look at the document.  
 
EdrieAnne Broughton
Vacaville, California


Paul Silverstone
 

There is also the problem of the spoken name being heard by speakers of different languages.   This spoken name
would be written differently from an English-speaker, such as a German, or French.   The sounds come out as
different letters in those languages.
 
Paul Silverstone


Harry Auerbach
 

I think we all would be well advised to abandon the notion of "right" and "wrong" spellings. For most of our ancestors, the records of their births, marriages, deaths and residences, were written in Russian (Cyrillic), or Hebrew or Yiddish (Hebrew script), or Polish (or Hungarian or Romanian, etc.), each with its own, oft-ignored, spelling and pronunciation conventions. Often this information was given to the recorders by third parties. Spelling even in those languages was not uniform. In any language, those recording the information tried to capture the spelling based on what they heard reported.
 
My grandfather emigrated to the United States in 1903. It took me twenty years to find the ship manifest, on which he is listed twice (because he was detained for a few days at Ellis Island), with different spellings of his surname. 
 
This is why we are taught to search different alternative spellings. Even though soundex will solve for many of them, it doesn't find them all.
 
Harry Auerbach
Portland, Oregon
 
 


jbonline1111@...
 

Add to the transliteration problem the fact that names were listed on ship manifests in Germany, England and other countries.  My maternal side apparently started as Zlates, which is on my grandfather's first naturalization papers in 1905 and my mother's birth certificate in the 1920s. By the 1930s, the name was spelled Slatas, making my family the only one in the USA with this last name, one reason I never use "mother's maiden name" as a security question.  Literally every person with this name in the United States is a cousin or the spouse of a cousin.  

Misspelling was common on my father's side. Thus his birth certificate is spelled Slominsky rather than Slonimsky.  Other variations showed up for other family members on ship manifests, such Slomimsky. 

As Sally said, using wild cards is almost mandatory when reviewing old records for these reasons, as well as the fact that spelling was not standardized.


--
Barbara Sloan
Conway, SC


Sheldon Clare
 

My name is Sheldon Clare. My father's name in Lithuania was Abraham Klioraitas. He arrived in the US. His family that went to Argentina were named either Klor or Klior.


Peter Straus
 

My own theory is that, especially when literacy in German was not universal, one must remember that the original function of written language was to record spoken language, and as such, the modern concept of a “right” and a “wrong” spelling doesn’t have much basis, so long as it sounded right—and don’t forget regional dialects.  This concept appears to underlie variations in given names like “Sophie” and “Sophia,” “Joseph” and “Josef,” but in surnames as well, particularly in the early years of their use (the early 1800s in the lands west of the Rhine).   Thus my paternal line’s family has consistently spelled its name “Straus” in most records from the 1800s, but there is lack of consistency between “Straus” and “Strauss” in the earlier records.

 

--peter straus

  San Francisco, California, USA


Ittai Hershman
 

With all these anecdotes about historical change, I'll just relate a contemporary example: my own given name.  I am named after a biblical hero character in 2 Samuel.  My parents gave me the spelling in Hebrew as it appears in the Masoretic text (אתי) and in English as it appears in the King James Version (Ittai).  Decades later, this became a very popular name in Israel.  

As a contemporary name in Israel, it is spelled with an added written Yud (איתי) to disambiguate it from the name Etty; and, in English, there are many permutations (e.g. Itay, Itai, Ittay) that one can see on Facebook.  For official purposes in Israel, using the Masoretic Hebrew spelling of my name would be swimming uphill, so fI use the Israeli convention for identification purposes there.  But, I use the Masoretic Hebrew spelling for myself.

Likewise, of course, there are various spelling permutations of each of my family surnames.  Borders and languages were crossed, sometimes written alphabets were crossed, and cultural conventions applied.  So, contractions, translations, and spelling changes; not to mention sometimes the invention of new names altogether, are part of what makes our immigration stories interesting, it seems to me.

Ittai Hershman
New York City


John Byng
 

My Grandfather changed his name by Deed Poll (a legal instrument) in 1925 from Bing to Byng.  It may have been to hide his Jewish parentage or to avoid association with the German Bings after WW1.  His father emigrated to London England from Hungary (perhaps Arad now Romania) and married in a Jewish ceremony in London but at some stage they seem to have abandoned their religious affiliation and it is only recently that I have discovered that my Christian father had Jewish grandparents.  Other descendants of my Great Grandfather are still using the Bing spelling.  
--
John Byng, Crawley UK
Researching great grandfather Louis Bing born about 1831 in Hungary (perhaps Arad now in Romania), died 1893 in Portsea, Hampshire England.


Stephen Weinstein
 

On Wed, Mar 17, 2021 at 07:15 AM, Carl Kaplan wrote:
looking at records for his newly discovered siblings show various spellings of the surname, Hoffort and Hoffart. Given they all lived in NYC, I am curious if anyone has ever heard WHY this happened.  I know this is common, and there are many transliterations of a name from Yiddish, but I have never heard any reasons why various members of the same immediate family chose different spellings.
The correct answer is

 Because each person decided individually how to spell it; there was no need or reason for consistency.


However, I think we should go back to doing it for the following reasons:

1. So that when mail comes addressed to Mr. so-and-so, with only a surname and no given name, we know who should open it.

2. So that genealogy doesn't become so easy that it is no long challenging enough and becomes boring.

3. So that collection agencies won't be able to find and harass the relatives of anyone who didn't pay their credit card bill or other debts.

--
Stephen Weinstein
Camarillo, California, USA
stephenweinstein@...