A short account regarding the surnames of Ashkenazim

Some of the earliest documented surnames of the Jewish people are found on the personal seals dating from the time of King Josiah of Judah (r. 639-609 BCE). They show a simple formula: given name; son of; name of the father. The seal below shows the name of the prophet Jeremiah’s scribe Berekhyahu ben Neriyahu. Note that the ending ‘Yahu’ of the names both father and son is, in fact,  the fragmented name of the god of the Kingdom of Judah, YHWH.

a)    Given name of the individual: Berekhyahu
b)    Son of: ben
c)    Name of the father: Neriyahu

Additional Photos BONAR WEBSITE02

A bulla made from the seal of Berekhyahu ben Neriyahu

Kingdom of Poland Lithuania

The Kingdom of Poland Lithuania where the majority of the world’s Jews lived for many centuries.

Ashkenazic Jews used this ancient Biblical nomenclature for hundreds of years. But in 1764 surnames suddenly became a necessity in Eastern Europe, because Jews in the kingdom of Poland-Lithuania (where the majority of the world’s Jews resided) were required to register with the Crown in order that the head-tax, they were now required to pay, was accurate. Prior to this time, Jews in the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania paid a community tax;  there was no individual tax.

Additional Photos BONAR WEBSITE01

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Empire in 1809

In the early 1800s, the Napoleonic Empire, which reached from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the border of Russia, included a considerable part of the lands inhabited by Ashkenazic Jews. Napoleon’s officials, too,  needed to keep track of citizens of the Empire for purposes of taxation; and so the government of France required the Ashkenazim in the empire to take Western European-style surnames. In 1808 the government of France published a list of appropriate Ashkenazic surnames in several categories.

A few examples follow. Those in bold are those of the extended Bonar Family which are in use at the present time:

  1. Original biblical form translated into Yiddish:
    • Mendelssohn = Son of Mendel
    • Myerson = son of Myer
  2. Color names:
    • Gruenberg = Green Mountain
    • Rothschild = Red Shield
  3. Place Names:
    • Wiener = resident of Vienna
    • Lenczner (Lentzner) = resident of Linz in Austria
    • Lansky (Lanes) = resident of Lanskaya in Belarus
    • Brin ברין = resident of Brno (Czech),  Brünn  (German) in Moravia, a land now in the Czech Republic
    • Hollander = resident of Holland
    • Kantoff (Kanth + Offo) = peaceful resident of Kanth (aka Kąty Wrocławskie) in Silesia, a land in western Poland. Prior to 1945 Kanth was in Germany.
    • Lehrer: a farmer who works in a enclosed meadow (Lehr); a teacher in a Heder
    • Niaman: family living near the Niemen River which passes through Lithuania and Belarus
  4. Occupation:
    • Schuller = student in a heder or yeshiva
    • Chaiet = Tailor in the Hebrew language
    • Zimbalist = Musician
    • Bonar = Bean Farmer, a Polish variant of the German term: Bohner
    • Schulman = Shammash (Hebrew) = Beadle in a Synagogue
  5. Names ending in ‘man’:
    • Szteynman (Steinman) = Stone merchant
    • Wajman (Wyman) = Incense merchant



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: