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The Jewish Genealogy Association 

Genami - Jewish and non-Jewish names

Most of the time a name is not enough to determine the person’s religion.

Apart from rare exceptions like COHEN (and the alternative spellings CAHEN, KAHN, KOHN etc) LEVY or LEVI (most of the time) and certain biblical names like MOISE, names are not ‘Jewish names’, but they may have a greater or lesser probability of being Jewish.

Jews used to only count their first name followed by their father’s first name in order to distinguish each other by example ‘Isaac Abraham’ or Isaac Ben Abraham’ (Isaac son of Abraham).

With the introduction of official surname registration the father’s first name often became the official surname.

Another way to distinguish each other was the use of a place name as a surname, normally the place that they had come from which could then change as they moved from town to town. By example a Simon GUNZBURG could have a son called Moshe ULMO.

There are many families with the surname FURTH who came from this city at various times but they do not all connect to each other.

The use of place names as ‘surnames’ was not only used by Jews by example Mozart’s landlord in Salzburg was called HAGUENAUER and he was not Jewish.

However, the use of place names or biblical names was not advisable in the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Eastern European countries where assimilation was encouraged. Here one finds surnames based on the person’s trade or names that did not appear Jewish.

By example In Alsace there are a large number of BLUM who are not Jewish, in Germany there are GUTMANN who are Christian and in Lorraine MARCUS who were never Jewish.

In all areas and countries the Jewish population used names that were also used by the non-Jewish population.

So how do we find out?

Often by the first names, but they change according to places, dates and fashion.

The only guaranteed solution is to carry out genealogical research and find evidence of your ancestors’ religion, by example using records such as census, marriages and circumcisions.

Ask GenAmi and they will help you!