Decoding Your Jewish Last Name

A look at the roots of popular Jewish surnames Read More

By / January 9, 2014









Ever wonder where all the Cohen’s came from? What about the Gold’s?

A fascinating article came out today examining the roots and meaning of Ashkenazic surnames chosen by Jewish people in Eastern Europe during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Initially, most Jews avoided taking a last name until they were ordered to by authorities for tax and education purposes.

The easiest way for Jews to fashion an official last name was to play off the name they were already given. In Yiddish or German, this typically began with your first name, with the added “son of,” leading us to common names like “Mendelson” or “Jacobson.” In Polish and Russian, you would see lots of endings with “wich” or “witz.”

Many Jews were also named by the town/region of their ancestors. As a result, the Germanic origins of most East European Jews is reflected in their names. For example, “Berlinsky” is from Berlin, “Berger” is generic for “townsman.”

Occupations also lead to the formation of many Jewish last names. “Sandler/Shuster” translates to “Shoemaker,” “Garfinkel/Garfunkel” equates to “diamond dealer.” And as for those drunkards down the street, the Weiner’s–they can’t help it, they simply originated as wine makers.

Some names formed in combination with other Hebrew words. For example “Blumen” means flower, and “feld” means field. So if your last name is “Blumenfeld” you rep the flower fields!

Pretty cool huh?! Now go check out the article and get translating!


(Photo by Shutterstock)


Wanna post your own comments?