Name Meanings

On Thu, 04 Feb 1999 00:22:03 +0200 James Bennett writes:

I am constantly amazed by the havoc wrought by the English language on Hebrew and European Jewish names.

Example: Ya'akov in Hebrew is pronounced almost exactly the same in Russian, German, Polish and virtually every other European language: "Yakob", even though it's spelled Jacob or Jakob with a "J". But in English it's pronounced "Jaykob". This misleads the innocent American Jewish genealogical novice.

Let's take another name: Lewin. In America it's pronounced "Luu'in", and Lewkowicz from Poland is is "Lukowitz". Lewin in German has two origins: Levin, meaning from the tribe of Levi, and from the name Loeb, meaning Lion or Aryeh in Hebrew, or Leib in Yiddish.

Jews with the name Jungmann almost always became Youngman in America to avoid being called "Jzungman", and who would imagine that Jesselson is derived from the name Yosef>Yosel>Yesel, etc. Judelman, Judelson, etc are prouncued "Jewdelman, Jewdelson" but they should really be spelled and pronouced as if spelled with a "Y" because they are derived from Yehuda.

Another example: Moskowicz in Polish, means son of Moshe and is pronounce Moshkovich. In America it's pronounced Moskowitz, and most people would answer that it's derived from the Russian capital city.

In German the "S" is usually pronounced like the English "Z", which means that Selma should sound like Zelma, Samuel is Zamuel, Salomon is Zalomon, Selig is Zelig, etc. And also in German the "Z" is prounced like "TZ": Zimmerman, Zuckerman, Zell, Ziegler, are all pronounced as if with a "TZ".

All the above is vital if the genealogist is searching for relatives in Israel, where even in the transition to Hebrew, the spelling and pronunciation are parallel to the original European system, never to the English. Zuckerman is spelled with a "Tzadek" never with a "Zain", and Selig with a "Zain", not a "Samekh". The same is true when searching memorial books where the lists of Holocaust victims are written in Yiddish. Yiddish adds lots of extra vowels, but the consenants are very close to Hebrew.

So this a plea for awareness and sensitivity to proper pronunciation of names which will save much misunderstanding and wasted time. Jim Bennett, Haifa,

"A Dictionary of Jewish Names and History - authored by Benzion Kaganoff and "The Complete Dictionary of English and Hebrew First Names"  are two fine books with realistic naming information.  Bear in mind though,that names of ancestors or the correct spellings of names is not scientific.

Note that many times, old records spell a name one way, while shtetl records may spell (or even name the same person) differently.  Much of these differences come about because of the specific location within a country.  My surname, Margulis, is pronounced Mar goo liss in Ukraine, and Mar GO liss in Lithuania and Poland.  This is one of the problems that a Jewish genealogical researcher faces, so therefore Mr. Daitch and Mr. Mokotoff created a Jewish version of the Soundex system.  This system allows a search on every possible name that uses most of the same letters and will return every possible name it identifies with those letters.

Soundex -  how to use and what it is, and other sites designed to assist you in either learning a language or giving you the necessary information to make your own translations and information about names 

Soundex Calculator - for both Windows and Macintosh systems  It also does Daitch-Mokotoff calculations, as well. 

Using The Soundex System Rules - some of the basic rules for Soundex include: 1.) vowels don't exist.  2.) S and Z and c and ch and tz and ts are the same 3.) m and n are the same 4.) only the first four Soundex-recognized letters count as being a part of the name. 

Yiddish Equivalents for English Names -  there are NO Yiddish equivalents.  There are Yiddish names, many of them based on Hebrew, Biblical or Rabbinic names.

When folks emigrated from their shtetl, or came to this country, they decided for a what ever reason, to change their name to be" more American".   Sometimes they were able to find a rough, sound-alike or look-alike name.  Rarely could their Yiddish name be translated into an exact English name.  For Biblical names, for example,  the English equivalents (e.g. Moses for Moshe) were available, but when you're Americanizing your name, why use one that lets people know you are Jewish?  Most of the time, parents of a new born bay, would chose a name that had the same initial sound.

Foreign Name Cross-Referenced - This site allows you to cross-reference English given first names to their Czechoslovakian, German, Hungarian, Polish or   equivalents



Dr. Roman N. Tunkel at offers his own inventive system - pseudorussian font(at least since 1995) using an English keyboard and some imagination.  He suggests usingthe Arial font.

Here is the Russian alphabet typed on an English keyboard (Arial font):

Pseudo Russian tunkel_font
Win-1251 Font

Cyrillic KOI-8 Font


A, a    6 - simple six     B - only capital      r - only small R  D, g -small G for small letter      E , e     E", e"      >k - is a trick.  First part is upper register of point ">", second> part is "k"     3 - simple three  U , u     U' , u' - short "e"  K , k   /\ - another trick.  Slash back+slash forward           M - only capital M       H - only capital         O , o              n - only small N       P , P       C , c       T , m - capital and small letter        Y , y      F , f - this is English, but there is no substitute         X , x           U, , u, - for the "ts" sound         4 - simple number four for the "ch" sound    W , w                    W, , w, - for the "shch" sound           bI - only capital (small B+ capital I)         b - soft sign, by small B        'b - hard sign       i0

Letters in the Cyrillic alphabet used for Russian look very much like the Greek alphabet, but do not have the same pronunciations.  Example: what looks like an English "B" in Cyrillic is a "V"".  What appears as a "P" is an "R".  The letter "S" in Russian appears as a letter "C".

Similar to Yiddish and Hebrew, Russian Cyrillic also has a single letter for "sh", "ch" (one each for sibilant (i.e. cherry) and guttural (i.e. chutzpa).  Also letters for "tz" "shch"  "zh", etc.  Many words in Russian, Polish, German and Yiddish are similar, yet written in 3 different alphabets.

  • EBPEU'     = Russian name for Jew                                                                   
  • EBPEU'CKOE = something which belongs to a Jew                                       
  • EBPEU'CKAR  WKO/\A = Jewish school                                                                    
  • EBPEU in Cyrillic would really spell "EVREU".  
( See "Cyrillic on english keyboard" - by Roman Tunkel)


There is no "H" in Russian though it is often substituted for the letter "G".  


Polish Language

"Alternate Surnames in Russian Poland" - authored by Lauren B. Eisenberg Davis's JewishGen InfoFiles.  It is about Polish names:

Polish Names For Each Month 

January Styczen' Stycznia
February Luty Lutego
March Marzec Marca
April Kwiecien' Kwietnia
May Mai Maja
June Czerwiec Czerwca
July Lipiec Lipca
August Sierpien' Sierpnia
September Wrzesien' Wizes'nia
October Pazdziernik Paz'dziemika
November Listopad Listopada
December Grudzien' Grudnia


Yiddish Language


College Yiddish and Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary" both published by YIVO and Schocken Books and the YIVO website at:

Russian Language Information: SKY - a Russian Toponymic Possessive Suffix = as in TurovSKY i.e. of Turov.  In non-Slavic languages Swedish also has one akin to it: SvenSKA - i.e. Swedish.  In both cases, it is an Indo-European element common in many Euro languages.  Also German - ISCH, Italian - ESCO, etc.

Name Changing at Ellis Island In the following excerpt from the Genealogical Journal, Volume 23, Numbers 2 & 3, 1995, the following information is of importance to the researcher. "Page 79: "Ellis Island's Myths and Misconceptions"

"Myth: Immigrants often had their names changed at Ellis Island." "the majority of passengers were detailed on the ship's manifest before the vessel left the port of departure.  The purser or ship's officer was familiar with the name and ethnicity of the many passengers who typically used the port.  The ship visited the port several times each year.  The captain and the medical officer swore affidavits to the accuracy of each group of lists, with one to thirty people in a group."

"On arrival in the port of New York, the US inspectors boarded each vessel and examined the manifest and tickets of all classes of passengers.  For those passengers taken to Ellis Island, immigration officials reviewed the questions and answers with each person.  The inspectors developed systems to prevent the misspelling of names.   To handle difficult names, interpreters were on hand who could understand more than thirty languages from Albanian to Yiddish."

"Between seeing the name on the manifest and writing it on a landing card there was a chance of changing the name.  A few immigrants requested a name change, as a new beginning.  Historical records and individual testimonies indicate that most name changes occurred during the naturalization process, not at Ellis Island."

"Names were rarely changed intentionally.  From mere confusion or a lack of communication, names were sometimes cropped, spelled phonetically, or substituted with the name of a hometown." 

"Names were *not* changed at Ellis Island as evidenced that passenger manifests were *not* created at Ellis Island.  The stories that names were assigned at Ellis Island is pure myth, nothing more, nothing less and only serves to perpetuate misinformation for those searching their ancestry."

"Passenger manifests were created (usually) by the purser of the ship under the direction of the captain.  Upon arrival at the port in the U.S. the passenger manifest was *handed* to the immigration officials."

"If a name was misspelled by the purser, and the immigrant was literate and could point out the error to the immigration official, the name was corrected on the manifest ..."

"Most name changes came about as a result of the immigrant desire to Americanize names and this usually happened some time after arrival. Try comparing the passenger arrival record to what appears later in either city directories, or on naturalization papers.  Also bear in mind that immigrants arrived with identification papers ... and in some cases those papers were false and can thus explain a name different that what the family name actually was at the time."

"There are legitimate reasons that names were changed, but the story that they were changed at Ellis Island for whatever reason is not one of them." 

Family Names:  Check out this newsgroup You have to type in this URL in order to join this site, but you will find users posting names, birth dates and other information.

Family Tree of the Jewish People database.  "Sometimes the surnames being researched contain a space i.e. Van Hoag or Del Gado.  Looking for this type of name won't work in this database unless you replace the space with an underscore character ( _ ).  Van_Hoag."

Given Name Definitions - Bunya and Bona JewishGen Digest Archives of October 17, 1999

Given names were often changed when someone had a serious illness.   I personally was given a second name of Harvey (English for Chai - life) when I was only a few months old as I had a serious health problem.  This was done by my parents to "fool" the Angel of Death.

Definition of Given Names

( Note there are no absolute Hebrew/Yiddish/English equivalents. "Many mistakenly think that if a Yiddish name has it's roots in a Hebrew (or Aramaic) name, that the person in question with the known Yiddish name also carries the Hebrew root name (and used it in the synagogue, for example, even if he wasn't known by that name).  This is not always the case.  Once a Yiddish name took hold, it, at times, had an independent identity.  The person may have had only the Yiddish name and not had the Hebrew one, as it was (and still is!) traditional acceptable to use non-Hebrew (albeit Jewish) names even for ritual.") The previous statement is attributable to Avrohom Kraus of Telz-Stone Israel.

A excellent reference book for given names is "A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames From the Kingdom of Poland" and authored by Alexander Beider. Another book of interest is Adstone's "A Directory of Hebrew Names and Dates"

Name Meanings - some sites with the meanings of names and with other information on names.  This site includes Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Lithuania, Slovene and German naming customs along with "The Origins of Family Names". 

Avrum A Yidishfied version of the Hebrew "Avrum", which is Abram in English.
Bas Tsayon Female name meaning, in Hebrew, "daughter of Zion". This name is the same as Tsiyon.
Benze  Short for Ben Tzion, son of Tzion (one of the 70 names of Jerusalem.
Berko  The names Dov and Ber are Hebrew/Yiddish equivalents and are often paired together.  The "ko" ending is probably an endearment.
Bernard This name is commonly associated with     the Hebrew name Barukh (Blessed), via Benedikt.  It is also often associated with Dov-Ber, via Ber---and Dov and Ber were associated with Issachar.
Chasa, Chasha A nickname for the Hebrew name Chana (and not for Chaya).  The names Chaske or Chaska come from Chasa.  The name Chasia is a more modern name from the beginning of the 20th Century in Israel and quite common in Lithuania.
Chaske (Chasa, Chase, Chasha, Chesha, Hasa, Hase, Hasha, Chasie The diminutive form of Chaya. In Reb Shmuel Gorr's book* of Jewish names, he claims that the name is derived from the bibilical name "Ketzia" one of the three daughters of Job.  It may also come from the Aramic "Chasia" which means "mercy"/"merciful".  The Hebrew name from which it came from is "Chana", a Biblical name.
Elias Generally is the Hebrew name of Elisha (Kings II 2:11) Also Eliyahu, Elya, Elyu (Kings I 17:1.  In Yiddish Ilya, Elias and Yiddish nicknames is Elko or Elka; European secular: Olev; US immigrants: Elijah, Alex(ander), Edward, Eli, Elie, Elia, Elias, Harry, Julius, Louis; South Aftrican: Elias, Eli, Ellis.  A similar spelling of a girl's Hebrew name is Elisheva. Elias was quite common in Lithuania for men.
Fanny Generally short for Frances or Francesca, but is also close to Fraida, Fruma  and Faiga.  It is not Hebrew but Germanic in origin.  It means "Frenchwoman".
Feivel The common equivalent nickname for Shraga.
Feiwus Has a folk etymological connection to Phoebus, another name for the Greek sun god Apollo (the actual origin of Feiwus is probably from the Latin Vivus for Chaim, which is itself a medieval name derived from Judaeo-Spanish Jaime = James - Jcacob.  Feiwus is a kinnuim for Uri
Frimce (Frimche, Frimma, Frumma) In English it would be equivalent of Fannie or Frances
Hersch (also Herschel, Hertz, Hertzel) Defined as a deer. In Hebrew the name representing deer is Zvi, Tsvi or Tsui and the Biblical name is Naphthali.   The English name would be Harris, Harry or Harold.
Hinde Defined as a doe.  It is the same in middle high German, and in modern German is Hindin.  It is related to the somewhat archaic English word "hind".
Herz   is defined as heart
Ick, Jck Itzik or Yitzchak 
Kalman A diminutive form to the name Kalonymus, a Greek name that comes in use especially in the Middle ages in Italy and Germany and it means a nice name or a good name (the famous family Kalonymus).
Kayla The name comes from the German name Gelle which means yellow.  Gelle equals Kelle, Keylle, Kayle or Kayla.
Lev The common European Jewish name "Lev" is the Russian equivalent of "Leo" (Latin) "Leon" (French), Leib (Yiddish).   "Loewe" (German) and "Arye" (Hebrew, and many other variations in various languages.  They all literally mean "Lion" (the animal).  Furthermore, they are often found in combination form (e.g. Arye-Leib, etc).  Another common combination form is "Yehuda-Arye" or "Yehuda-Leib", because of a biblical reference linking the tribe of Yehuda to its emblem of a lion.
Meizel Equivalent is Mordecai or Motte, Muna, Munin
Mendel Milton, Morton, Martin, Mark, etc.
Mordechai Morton, Martin, Mark, Mordecai, Everett, Marcus, Myles, Max, Milford, Myron.  The Yiddish name equivalent is Mottel.
Notko or Nisel Probably an endearment of Note, which is a different name than Nata.  Nisel is probably a shortened form of Nissen.
Orel Yiddish diminutive of the Hebrew name "Aharon" ("Aaron" in English) It is a Slavic word meaning "Eagle"
Ovsey Popular given name in Lithuania and is linked to the Hebrew name Yehoshua.
Peshe Common woman's name
Ruchel Rachel
Rywka, Rivka Rivka is Hebrew and the origin is in Genesis 22:23.  In Yiddish it is known as Rivka, Rivke, Riva, Risya, Rivele and Rivtsa.  In US English it is known as Rachel, Rebecca, Betty, Eva, Rita, Riva, Rive, Rose, Doa, Roberta and Regina.  US Nicknames: Becky and Beckie
Sammet There are two explanations.  One is that the name Sammet comes from the German word Samt which means Velvet in English.  The second explanation is that it is an acronym in Hebrew and means, in English, "Turn from the evil and do good things".
Shaia is a shortened version of Yeshayahu
Shraga Aramic for candle, probably actually lamp Also a kinnuim for Uri.
Sima (Simcha) a Hebrew name meaning Joy.
Tryna A Russified and abbreviated version of Katherine, Katrina, Trina.  In Hebrew: Treyna; Yiddish: Traina, Traine, Trayna, Trayne, Treina, Treine.  Possible origin: From Trina, which is from the German name Katharine.  US: Trina.
Tseepa A nickname for Tziporah (bird) which is Fayge in Yiddish.  An Americanized version could be Faye, Faith.
Velvel, William, Bill, Wolf A diminutive of Wolf with many variations including Wolpe, originating from the Latin "Vulpus".  In Hebrew, the equivalent is Ze'ev and is sometimes connected to Benjamin (for similar reasons to the Arye-Leib connection).
Yehoshua Origin: Exodus 24:13; In Yiddish: Hoshil, Oshaiah, Osias, Shaia, Shiya, Yeshiye, Yeshue, Yozel.  Yidish Nicknames: Hashke, Haushel, Hesel, Heshel, Hoshie, Hovsha, Shike, Shiye, Yehoshia, Yeshia, Shy.  English: Charles, Howard, Julius, Samuel, Sidney, Simon, Sam
Zelote Zlote or Zlota means "golden".  Same as Golda

*Reb Shmuel Gorr's book is "Jewish Personal Names: Their Origin, Derivation, and Diminutive Forms".  Published by Avotaynu, Inc. in 1992

"Equivalents are derived from Greek, Latin, French, Spanish and English sources.  Direct equivalents of Hebrew names are given first: others follow in alphabetical order.  The direct equivalent is omitted if it is identical with the transliteration."

"Adaptations occur not only in relation to the name under which they are listed but are adapted by popular usage from any names with similar sound or initial"

"It is not the case that female converts to Judaism are *required* to take the name Ruth.  The misconception about Ruth is presumably based on the fact that the biblical Ruth is often viewed as the "prototypical" female convert (though in biblical, i.e. pre-rabbinic, times there was no official conversion procedure for women)."

It is usual, though, for a female convert to select and adopt a Hebrew name (usually but not necessarily biblical, so she can take her pick)." Whatever name is chosen, the convert will be known as "So and so bat Avraham ve-Sarah."  


Surnames were not a necessity, or used until around 1815.  Prior to that year, there were some surnames, but only few and they were rare.  Examples include Joffe from the 7th Century; Altschuler from the 16th Century, etc.  The common surnames as we know them today, started only by the end of the 18th Century and mostly, as previously stated, after 1815.

When a last name carries the "Von" before the surname, that indicates nobility, though it is rare, it is seen in Holland names. "Van" is also used in Dutch records, at least in Sephardi ones, to indicate "of" in the sense of "child of" thus Sara van Jacob) in the same way that "de" was pressed into service in the London Sephardi community."

Bernath Hungarian for Good Day or Festival which is the exact meaning of the Hebrew name YomTov.
Blatt In German or Yiddish it beans "Leaf" and is quite a common Jewish name, especially with the addition of a color, such as Greenblatt, Goldblatt, etc. 
Margulis, Margolis, Margolin, etc. means "pearl" as in the Greek and Hebrew word Marguleath
Parnass means literally, "provider of sustenance" and is the title of a communal officer, specifically a communal president.


Israeli Family Names

Jewish Personalities and their real names

Asa Yoelson = Al Jolson    Milton Berlinger =  Milton Berl  Fanny Borach =  Fanny Brice    Bernard Schwartz =  Tony Curtis    Bobby Zimmerman   =  Bob Dylan     Ethel Zimmerman =  Ethel Merman     Elliot Goldstein  =  Elliot Gould     Israel Baline  =  Irving Berlin     Stephanie Federkrewcz =  Stephanie Powers     Belle Silverman =   Beverly Sills    Betty Joan Perske =  Lauren Bacall     Nathan Birnbaum =  George Burns     David Caniel Kaminsky  = Danny Kaye     Edward Israel Iskowitz =  Eddie Cantor     Benjamin Kubelsky = Jack Benny     Michael Orowitz =   Michael Landon     Allen Stewart Konigberg =  Woody Allen Issue Danielovitch Demsky =  Kirk Douglas    Sophia Kalish   = Sophie Tucker    Joseph Gottleib = Joey Bishop    Natasha Gurdin =  Natalie Wood     Lyova Geisman = Lee Grant    Joyce Penelope Frankenburg = Jane Seymour    Joseph Levitch = Jerry Lewis    Melvin Kaminsky = Mel Brooks    Elaine Berlin = Elaine May    Michael Peschkowsky = Mike Nichols    Gerald Silberman = Gene Wilder     Jacob Cohen = Rodney Dangerfield    Joan Molinsky = Joan Rivers    Borge Rosenbaum = Victor Borge    Amos Jacob = Lee J. Cobb   Lazlo Lowenstein = Peter Lorre     Emanual Goldenberg =  Edward G. Robinson    Judith Tuvim = Judy Holliday    Ira Grossel = Jeff Chandler    Melvyn Hesselberg = Melvyn Douglas     Ivo Levi = Ives Montand     Simone-Henriette Kaminker = Simone Signoret     Marion Levy = Paulette Goddard    Karen Blanche Ziegler = Karen Black    Ella Geisman = June Allyson    Sidney Leibowitz = Steve Lawrence    Abraham Isaac Archawsky = Artie Shaw    Adolph Zukor = Adolph Zukor