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Subject: Fascinating link on names, Russian, Slavic, Jewish and more:
Author: Pamela Devorah Kimball   (guest,
Date: June 13, 2011 at 8:52:37 PM

The writer is obviously not a native English speaker, but it's certainly post-graduate level research. Not sure how much text I can copy in this, but here goes:

Prof. dr hab. Zofia Abramowicz

Antroponomy of the Jews from Bialystok as the reflection of the nation's culture and history

Personal name of every man, inseperably connected with the background he grows in, always originates from the living language and becomes the reflexion of a whole nation`s existance, its history, customs, certain inclinations and everyday life. Linguistic analysis of onomastic material enables to reach to the ancient time i.e. to that particular moment when a personal name came into existence. Etymology of the oldest group of names -first names - involves a great variety of human feelings : joy and sorrow, anxiety and suffering, expresses admiration of the world and pain that is accompanied by grief , hides parents` dreams and wishes for a newly born child as well as social attitude towards an individual. On that score Jewish antroponomy is an extremely interesting research material.

There have arisen many legends and stereotypes about Jewish onomastics because very few researchers made an effort to get acquinted with the nations` culture and history whereas personal names became an object of rough jokes, sneers and humiliations.

.M. Brzezina mentions several first names generalized according to the rule pars pro toto, for example: icek, judasz, kajfasz, mosiek, srul, fajga and the others1 which were used as synonymous words for a Jew. Many Jewish names with beautiful etymology were undergoing the process of changing into common names and were penetrating the surrounding nations` languages as common words.Into Polish there entered such common nouns originated from Jewish names as: beniaminek ‘favourite child‘; chaimek jokingly ‘lamp‘; chaja ‘harlot‘ (whereas etymologically names Chaim, Chaja are connected with a root that means ‘ life ‘); małka ‘infirm girl‘ (whereas name Małka originally meant ‘queen‘); rebeka ‘fat woman‘ (whereas name Rebeka, Rywka originates from a noun meaning ‘sheep or cow‘ ); slojma ‘slovenly man‘2 (and this is a modified form of name that symbolizes wisdom - Salomon).

First names and surnames included in the public register3 of the Jews from Bialystok clearly testify to their close relation with the nation`s culture and history and simultanously reflect the influence of other languages and cultures.

To understand the mechanisms how the system of names of the Jews who had inhabited Bialystok until the World War II was forming, we should reach as far as the source of development of their culture and history, to investigate the nation`s life in Diaspora in different European countries and in the world. The system of Jewish names started to form itself in the prehistoric times. When Hebrew became dead language the Jews were inspired by their literature.. Biblical names of old Hebrew origin gave support for the nation; Those names were indispensable to preserve national character. In spite of the fact living language always triumphed. Therefore etymologically different names penetrated onomastic system of Jewish names: in Chaldeic period there came into existence names from chaldeic root (Szerebia, Szobek, Rechum), in Babylonian Captivity-Babylonian names (Mordechaj) and so on. Greek, Aramaic, Acadeic, Arabic names were adopted. Untill the year 1000 AC biblical, Hebrew, Chaldeic, Arabic, Persian and European names entered the store of Jewish names4. Although Hebrew became dead language then, it continued being the source of Jewish names. In Europe they used such names as : Aaron, Abraham, Dawid, Mojżesz, Noe, Szemaria and the others5.

Under the influence of languages and dialects of neighbouring nations the Jews garbled their own names. They moved from place to place and they took these garbled name forms with them to other territories , to other surroundings that differed in cultural and linguistic respect. New elements influenced garbled names and new linguistic changes took place.

Before the Jews settled down in Bialystok they had travelled the long way across the countries of Western Europe. In Bialystok they found themselves as immigrants among other nations i.e. Germans, Poles and Belorussians . Even if they used their own system of names they modified it under the influence of other foreign languages. To what extent the reflexion of linguistic and cultural contacts with many European nations in the names of the Jews from Bialystok can be found? The analysis of linguistic interference can be based on both biblical and Yiddish first names and surnames.


In the set of first names applied by the Jews from Bialystok there appeared names of various etymology. They can be divided into: 1. biblical names; 2.non-biblical names (they are of Semitic origin, Yiddish origin or taken from other systems of names).

Using biblical names the Jews cuold keep their traditional pronunciation and spelling. Along with the adoption of Christianity and the translation of the Bible into different languages biblical names became famous among other nations and some of them entered the store of Christian names creating the foundation of their new systems of names (Jan, Józef, Anna , Maria). Reaching European nations through Greek (Septuaginta) and Latin (Wulgata) they introduced the above languages` characteristics.For example Christian terminology and biblical names from Byzantine Greek penetrate Russian. Some features of Greek phonological system in relation to biblical Hebrew decided about the creation of certain phonetic forms of biblical names in Russian. Greek and biblical names were accepted by Russian from Greek through Old Church Slavonic with the help of simple transcription. Therefore the same biblical first names in Russian and Hebrew have different phonetic form. What is more, the spelling of Jewish names in Russian alphabet motinated the changes in the phonic realisation of names.

Between the two World Wars Polish which had taken Christian terminology and consequently Latin personal names became an official language in Bialystok. Polish form of biblical name differed not only from its Hebrew prototype but also from Russian form. Therefore the same biblical first name with Hebrew etymology can be found in , at least, three variants:

Hebrew, strictly speaking, reflecting pronunciation and spelling of Hebrew;

Russian, in other words ,reflecting adoption process in Russian;

Polish reflecting adoption process of first name in Polish
If we take into account the influence of other European languages and the derivation of Hebrew, Yiddish, Slavonic and other European languages there appears rich and colorful picture of Jewish antroponomy in this region.Let`s mention some chosen names:

IZAAK, Hebrew jishaq, Russian form ????? appears in the material from Bialystok

( since 1919 ) in the following variants: ????? , ?????, ?????, ?????, ????, ????, ????, ?????. Between the two World Wars there appeared variants : Izaak, Icchok ( vel Izaak ), Isaak, Isak, Izak, Icko, Ajzyk. This abundance of variants is the result of linguistic interference on different levels. The name Isaak in this form was adopted in Old Church Slavonic (through Greek) and then entered the store of Russian names . Icchak and Icchok are the closest to Hebrew form Jishaq, whereas [h] both in Polish and Russian is carried with the help of [x/ch] not [g]; Ajzyk was created under the influence of English pronunciation (Jishaq > Ajzak, Ajzek, Ajzyk), whereas German motivated variant Icek (Isak > Izak, Icak, Icek); Icka, Icko were created under the influence of everyday language of the inhabitants from Bialystok similarly to Jankko, Wańka which in this region were associated with such diminutives as Janek, Bronek, Tomek; variant Icel reflects the influence of German derivative system: this form was created with German diminutive suffix -el from shortened stem Ic-el.

ANNA, Hebrew hannah in the public register of the Jews from Bialystok there are the following variants: Anna, Chana, Chanka, Chasza, Chasia. Russian and Polish variant of the name lost [h] as a result of Greek-Latin intervention. But this is not a popular form of name among the Jews , which is testified by the statistic data (during Russian period name Anna was given 42 times while Chana - 195 times). Forms Chanka, Chasza, Chasia were formed from the stem of Hebrew name variant with the help diminutive Slavonic suffixes : -ka, -sza, -sia.

EWA, Hebrew hawwa in Diaspora in Bialystok it had variants: Ewa and Ewwa, Chawa, Chowa, Chwolesz, Chwolisz and probably Chwiena. The most popular were the forms close to Hebrew prototype: Chawa and Chowa (with variancy a/ / o). Other forms are derivatives formed in Yiddish that preserved Semitic consonantal root [hw].

MARIA, Hebrew Miriam or Mariam, in the public register of the Jews from Bialystok it has forms: Maria, Mariam, Meriam, Mirjam, Miriam, Mania, Mariasza, Marjasza, Masza, Maja, Mera, Merka, Mirel, Mirka, Mirsa, Mircza, Mircze, Muszka and the others. In the society of the Jews from Bialystok this name was used in Old Hebrew or close to it phonetic form, because the most frequent forms in the public register are: Mariam, Meriam and Miriam. A great number of forms calls our attention. No doubt that some of them appeared under Slavonic influence. Mania and Masza belong to this group since they were created from the name Maria by Poles (Mania), Belorussians and Russians (Masza).There appeared other forms according the pattern: Mer-a and Mer-ka (< Meriam), Mir-a, Mir-ka (< Miriam), Maria-sza (< Maria, Mariam). There is an Yiddish suffix -el in Mirel (< Miriam) while Mircza, Mircze and Mirsa were under Romanian influence (Mircea), though these forms could have been created under Slavonic influence: Miriam > Mir-cia > Mircza, Mircze where -cza, -cze show pronunciation of palatal consonants in Yiddish6.

The above examples of first names testify to the fact that this important group of Jewish names which has its source in the Bible and traditional patterns of Hebrew spelling and phonetics also underwent linguistic interference . The names of the Jews from Bialystok enclosed in the public register on the turn of the 19th prove the influence of many languages, but the greatest number of changes in the Jewish names took place as a result of German

(Yiddish), Russian and Polish influence. In many cases linguistic interference depended on written or oral way of adopting foreign linguistic features. On the Hebrew groundwork as well as other linguistic material there were formed names with positive meaning that started functioning as first names . Very often Hebrew names were translated into a local language or dialect. Initially they functioned as double first names , for example Susanna (Szoszana) - Rose; Sara - Regina; Cypora - Fejgel; Chaim - Vivacius and so on7. The set of first names used in Bialystok includes quite numerous group of names originating in Yiddish. These are Hirsz, Lejb, Ber, Wolf; Bejla, Złata, Golde and the others.

The origin of names Hirsz, Lejb, Wolf is very interesting. They were born from the symbolic understanding of Joshua`s blessing who gave his children different epithets and nicknames: Naftali was called hind hence Hebrew name Cewi (Cwi) and Yiddish Hirsz (German deer), Juda - lion hence Hebrew Aria and Yiddish Lejb, Lew, Lewe, sometimes Leon; Benjamin - wolf hence Hebrew Zew (Zeew) and Yiddish Wolf (German ‘wolf’)8.

In religious rite in synagogue a Jew was obliged to use originally Hebrew names therefore there appeared names translations from local language into Hebrew. This way

Yiddish name Ber (< German ‘bear‘ ) transformed into Dowa, Benedykt into Barucha (‘blessed’), Gottlieb into Jedydia ( ‘beloved by God‘ ), Febus into Uri or Szraga (‘light‘) and so on. This habit of naming among the Jews Became the source of enrichment of antroponimic system and formulation of many non-biblical names.

The motivation for choosing names among the Jews is different from that among Christians similarly to the differences in the development of Jewish names and the system of names in civilized Christian world. Directions of development of Jewish names were often determined by their living standards because for centuries the most significant motivation in choosing a child`s name was a word`s semantic which a personal name came from. Jewish names that appeared in living language reflected its history, national customs , its inclinations in family life. Jewish names had to be understood by the Jews themselves . The tendency to make them intelligible for other nations led to translation into other languages. This way there appeared double names: Hebrew served a Jew in a temple but translated into the language of local population were used in relationship with neighbouring non-Jewish population. In each period still new habits connected with giving names were developing. They gave names to commemorate their ancestors, names of benefactors to express undying gratitude. They gave father`s or other ancestor`s names for boys ( Aba-ben, Josef-ben-Raba-ben-Josef)9. In some diaspors there appeared a habit of changing the name of a sick person into another name that gave hope to recover , for example Chaim (‘life’), Refael (‘God, heal!’), Iosif (‘prolong life’).

In this connexion the Jews treated the meaning of names very seriously. Etymological analysis of onomastic material can depict the nation`s life , show which values they respected most. The names given on the turn of the 19th century in the diaspor of the Jews from Bialystok can be divided into two structural types :

first names formed from common nouns;

composita i.e. compound names, often making a complete sentence.
Formed from common nouns male and female names differ. The Jews from Bialystok chose for boys the names formed from animals` names that symbolized power, courage, might: Aria, Lejb, Lew, Leo ‘lew’; Cwi ( Cewi ), Hirsz lub Hersz ‘deer’; Zew ( Zeew ), Wolf, Welwel ‘wolf’.

Girls were given names formed from domestic animals` names , birds and insects` names and the others. They symbolized hard work, charm and other values , for example: Debora, Bina ‘pszczoła’, Cypora, Fejgel ‘bird’, Cywia ‘ gazelle’, Hinda ‘hind’, Tauba ‘ dove’ and the others.The names referring to plants were also chosen willingly, particularly to flowres which similarly to animal world were symbols of some values in Jewish culture, for example a palm was a symbol of perfection and prosperity , beauty, wisdom and life ( let`s look at some verses from the Bible: “ How beautiful and charming you are my love! Similar to a palm ...” [PnP. 7,8].

In antroponimic material from Bialystok there appeared the following names : Tamara

( Hebrew ‘palm’), Hadasa (Hebrew ‘myrtle’), Szoszana ( Hebrew ‘ lily’), Bluma ( German ‘flower’), Roza,Róża ‘roża’ and the others. Women were also given names formed from the names of jewellery, precious stones and metals: Penina, Margalit, Perel, ‘perła’, Gołda, Złata ‘złota’. There are not such male names.Female names formed from common nouns used the stems with certain moral values manifest the fact that the Jews from Bialystok respected noble- mindedness, religiousness, modesty, charm, cleanness, purity, wisdom , beauty and the others: Ada ‘ornament’, Adel ‘noble’, Ahuwa , Liba ‘beloved’, Anna (Chana) ‘generosity’, Bejla, Jafa, Kejla, Krasna, Szifra ‘beautiful’, Chasia

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