In This Article Jewish Names

  • Introduction
  • Jewish Anthroponymy

Jewish Studies Jewish Names
by
Shlomit Landman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0119

Introduction

The term anthroponym includes given names and surnames. The science of given names and surnames and toponyms is onomastics, derived from the Greek word for name—onoma. This field acknowledges the fact that given names are the most personal words to humans in every language, with different philosophical, psychological, cultural, and linguistic perspectives. This article does not address Jewish toponyms; it focuses on Jewish anthroponyms—given names and surnames. The uniqueness of onomastics relates to the habit of child naming, a process creating a bond between the name givers and the child—parents’ link to the future. At the same time, in many cultures the process of naming a person connects the name giver (or givers) to the past. The Jewish Bible is a prime source of the Jewish culture in many ways, including onomastically, so the science of Jewish onomastics starts with biblical names. Nevertheless, Jews used many more names during their long history, some Hebrew, others from various Jewish languages from different cultures.

Jewish Anthroponymy

Jews used many Hebrew given names throughout time, most of them biblical, so they are transparent to Hebrew speakers as explained in Stamm 1972. Numerous works, such as Dan 1998, show that Hebrew letters and Hebrew names have been considered to be mystic tools. However, Jews used throughout the generations also non-Hebrew names, as pointed out in Zunz 1837. Surnames became mandatory for Jews, like all citizens in many countries, thus most Jews got surnames in local languages, and only a few insisted on Hebrew surnames. A significant body of work has been dedicated to descriptions of Jewish onomastics in general, including These Are the Names (Demsky, et al. 1997 and Demsky 1999–2011) and a website of Jewish onomastics, Lawson 2005. The journal Avotaynu reviews mostly Jewish genealogy; Sack and Mokotoff 2004, contains articles in a variety of subjects in the field of Jewish onomastics and Jewish genealogy. Following the pioneering work Zunz 1837 (reprinted in 1876), many works have been devoted to onomastics, including the bibliographies Singerman 2001, Lawson 2003, and Lawson 2008.

  • Dan, J. Jewish Mysticism. 4 vols. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1998.

    E-mail Citation »

    Volumes 1–3 include chapters presenting the mysticism of Hebrew letters, numbers, and names. “The book of names” by Rabbi Eleazar of Worms is discussed in the 2nd volume, and volume 3 presents names of deities, god, and language issues related to Jewish mysticism.

  • Demsky, A., ed. These Are the Names. Vol. 2–5. Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1999–2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    This series of five volumes dedicated to studies of Jewish onomastics is devoted primarily to various perspectives of different types of Jewish given names, in various periods of time and geographical locations. Papers are written in English and Hebrew, Hebrew papers contain English abstracts.

  • Demsky, A., J. A. Reif, J. Tabory, eds. These Are the Names. Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    The first volume contains reviews of Jewish given names and surnames from a variety of geographical locations and historical periods.

  • Lawson, E. D. “Some Jewish Personal Names—2.” In These Are the Names. Vol. 4. Edited by A. Demsky, 174–335. Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2003.

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    An annotated bibliography paper presenting studies of various topics of Jewish anthroponomy.

  • Lawson, E. D. Jewish Onomastics. 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    Presents a concise general description of Jewish onomastics, given names, and surnames in several communities worldwide throughout history.

  • Lawson, E. D. Jewish Personal Names Bibliographies. Lawson Bibliographies. 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    A broad annotated bibliography of various perspectives of Jewish given names and surnames based on previous annotated bibliographies published by this author, including Lawson 2003; Demsky, et al. 1997; and Demsky 1999–2011.

  • Sack, S. A., and G. Mokotoff, eds. Avotaynu—Guide to Jewish Genealogy. Bergenfield, NJ: Avotaynu, 2004.

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    Includes papers on different topics concerning Jewish genealogy and onomastics, and contains a short summary of Jewish surnames.

  • Singerman, R. Jewish Given Names and Family Names, a New Bibliography. Edited by D. L. Gold. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2001.

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    A new version of the bibliography of Jewish given names, surnames, and the naming process published first in 1977. This book is considered the most comprehensive bibliography on the topic. The book starts with a wide section related to biblical materials and addresses issues such as Judeophobia and Jewish names. The last section contains references to names classified according to geographical areas.

  • Stamm, J. J. “Names: In the Bible.” In Encyclopedia Judaica. Vol. 14. Edited by Fred Skolnik and Michael Berenbaum, 764–766. Jerusalem: Keter, 1972.

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    The encyclopedia contains general explanations for biblical names, definitive entries for most biblical figures, and general explanations on names in the Talmud, including linguistic origin, changes over time and unique qualities of Israelite names.

  • Zunz, L. Names of Jews: A Historical Research. Leipzig: L. Fort, 1837.

    E-mail Citation »

    In German. Second edition enlarged and corrected: Gesammelte Schriften von Dr. Zunz 2, 1–82. Berlin: L.Gerschel Verlagsbuclihaadluug, 1876. A comprehensive list of given names in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, German, and other languages, used by Jews along the generations. Zunz emphasized the fact that Jews carried non-Hebrew names since antiquity, as a reaction to a Prussian law from the beginning of the 19th century forcing Jews to use only Jewish names.

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