Jewish Last Names
Jewish last names are a relatively new phenomenon, historically speaking. Sephardic Jews (from areas around the Mediterranean) did not start adopting family names until the 15th century when expulsion from Spain meant finding a way to keep family ties. Ashkenazi Jews (from eastern Europe and Germany) didn't take on last names until well into the 18th and 19th centuries when governments in Europe began registering Jews as subjects. Later still, Jews from places like Yemen and India didn't adopt last names until they emigrated to Israel in the 20th century.
Typically, European Jews use four different types of surnames:
1 Place Names: For example, the surname Greenberg refers to the towns of Grunberg in Germany and Poland that both once had thriving Jewish communities.
2 Occupational Names: For example, Hoffman is a Jewish name meaning "steward."
3 Patronymic names: These last names indicate familial relationships. For example, the surname Mendelsohn would be given to someone who is the son of Mendel.
4. Biblical names: These are names that indicate religious significance or a relationship to a prominent biblical figure. For example, many Jewish surnames are used to designate someone as a Levite (a member of the Hebrew tribe of Levi." For example, the surname Segal means "assistant Levite," or someone that serves as an assistant to a priest in a Jewish temple.
Many Jewish people also choose meaningful Hebrew names in order to honor their culture and heritage. Jewish family names may be a translation of a Hebrew word or selected to honor a notable person in the Hebrew Bible. Many modern American Jews will give their children a Hebrew name in addition to their personal names.
Popular Jewish Surnames (with English Name Meanings)
Here are some of the most common Jewish family names and their meanings.
- Levin - A derivative of the German name Liebwin. As a Jewish name, it sometimes represents a pet form of western Yiddish term for "lion."
- Goldberg - Goldberg is a surname of German/Yiddish origin meaning "mountain of gold."
- Cohen - From the Hebrew word kohen, meaning "priest." In Jewish culture, priests are traditionally regarded as members of a hereditary caste descended from Aaron, brother of Moses. Common variations of this name include Kohn and Kaplan.
- Kaplan - An Ashkenazic Jewish surname used as a translation of Cohen, from German Kaplan or Polish word for "chaplain" or "curate."
- Schwartz - German nickname for someone with black hair or a dark complexion.
- Katz - An acronym from the Hebrew phrase kohen tsedek, which translates to "priest of righteousness."
- Friedman - An Ashkenazic Jewish name derived from the Yiddish word frid, meaning "peace."
- Perl - a surname from the old German word for "pearl."
- Levi/Levy - In Hebrew, Levi means "united." In the Bible, Levy was the son of Jacob and Leah.
- Abrams - An Ashkenazic patronymic name derived from Abraham. In the Bible, Abraham is regarded as the first patriarch who established a covenant with God.
Most Popular Jewish Last Names on FamilyEducation: Horowitz, Mizrahi, Roth, Schneider, Shapiro, Weiss
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