The Jewish Genealogy Association
By Benoît Gherchanoc - GenAmi no 28
For as long as I can remember people have asked me “Are you a Breton” as soon as they hear my name (heard as Guerchanoc).
Officially it is Gherchanoc however, one of my uncle’s wrote it as Guersanoc and one of my aunts used Guerchanok. The latter corresponds best to the French translation.
Research on the Internet gave me to believe there were no other examples of Gherchanoc but using jewishgen I found that the Americans (inevitably!) use another spelling Gershanok. Research using this spelling led to 15 different references in US and Russia.
What is the explanation for these various spellings? My father, who was the youngest, was born before 1918 in Kichinev (Bessarabia, Russia as that time). After 1918 Bessarabia which is in South Moldavia became Romanian. Kichinev became Chisinau (where the French ‘S’ comes from the Romanian ‘S’ which is CH, while French ‘CH’ comes from Romanian ‘CH’ which sounds like ‘K’). Of course, since 1918 names written in Cyrillic were romanised. Thus, the Russian surname became Ghersanoc in Romanian, where ‘gh’ is the Latin for ‘Gue’ and the final C became K.
When my uncle arrived in France, the ‘GH’ was changed to ‘Gu’ and the ‘S’ into ‘CH’: Gherchanoc.
Origin of the name
Returning to the question of finding the origin of the name. My father said that Gherch (Gersh in America) was Zvi (Hebrew for Stag) and that anoc meant large. This last part surprised me. I have since discovered that the Hebrew word anake means giant, but that did not satisfy me.
I looked at Alexandre Beider’s book on Jewish names of the Russian Empire, in the preliminary explanations on these names one discovers that anok is a Russian suffix for name, and enko is a Ukrainian suffix for name. It seems more probably to me. There remains the question of Gherch. Beider says it comes from Ghirsh, first found in Riga (Latvia). One of my maternal uncles told me that my paternal family had slowly migrated from Riga towards Kichinev, while passing through BieloRussia. But that is another story. Before continuing it should be said that our H as in hero becomes a Russian ‘Gue’. Thus hero is Russian gueroi. Consequently Girsh is in fact Hirsch, Yiddish or German ie Cerf.
Finally, we know that Hirsch is the same as Naphtali (see GenAmi no 25 and GenAmi no 26). Hirsch is a kinoui (Hebrew for nickname) or name in the local language.