From Beth Hatefutsoth (via Plep) comes an introduction to their database of Jewish names. Getting information on particular names costs five bucks a pop, but the introduction is well worth reading:

In all Diaspora communities, Jews had a preference for surnames of biblical or Hebrew origin. Not only did they choose biblical given names that had been in Jewish usage for generations – Shimon, David, Yaakov, Abraham, Aharon and many others – but also biblical toponyms like Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other venerated sites and landmarks of the Land of Israel. Yet, Jews did not use the name in the original form, but generally changed its spelling and pronunciation or added prefixes and/or suffixes from other languages. In this way, they wished to combine their ancestral heritage with a sincere desire to be integrated into the non-Jewish surrounding society. Family name Nathansohn is an example of choosing a biblical name – Nathan – to which the German suffix “-sohn” (meaning “son”) was added to confer it a more German appearance. In North Africa, the biblical Yaakov became the family name Vaaknin, which is a diminutive of Yaakov in the local Berber language. As a result, the Hebrew name sounded more similar to a local Berber or Arabic name.
Sometimes family names were created by using acronyms or anagrams of Hebrew words. Thus, the name’s sound and spelling was changed, transforming it into a European name while keeping the original meaning: Katz, which is a Hebrew acronym of Kohen Zedek (“rightful priest”) (ë”õ) means “cat” in German. Family names Wiehl or Weill are anagrams of the biblical name Levi.
Translating a Hebrew name was another popular method for selecting a family name: Hayyim (literally: “life”) became Vivas or Bibas for Ladino speaking Jews, while Cohen (meaning “priest”) was translated as Kaplan (“chaplain”, in German).

I’m assuming that their information is accurate; what I know about seems correct, but as always I welcome corrections from knowledgeable readers.


  1. Bet Hatfutsot information is usually very accurate. They do good research.

    And I’ve known two Katzes who were very surprised, upon their arrival to Israel, to find out that they are Cohen-Tsedeks rather than cats.

  2. David Sims says:

    How could I find out if I’m a Jew? I was told that Sims IS A Jewish family sir name.

  3. Sims can be a Jewish surname, but it is more commonly a Christian English name equivalent to Simons, Simmons, and Simpson, all from the given name Simon, which became popular in the Middle Ages out of affection for Simon Peter the apostle; corresponding names in other European languages are De Simone, Jimenez, Simonov, Szymanski, and Sienkiewicz (the last from the Polish diminutive Sienko). I imagine Jewish families adopted the name as the native equivalent of Hebrew names based on Shimon, but I don’t really know. At any rate, I’m afraid you’ll have to use other approaches if you want to know whether you’re a Jew.

  4. Can Henschel be jewish?

  5. S Hari Shankar says:

    Can you tell me if “TALKE” is a Jewish Name or not, please ?

  6. Don’t know, sorry.

  7. Laurel Smith says:

    Can you tell me if the Polish surnames Wisnieski or Zielinski can be Jewish? What about Jacob Mischna from Czechoslovakia? Thank you

  8. People, this is not the “Who’s a Jew?” website. I’m sorry if my entry somehow misled you. It was written to point readers to the Beth Hatefutsot site, which is where I suggest you direct your inquiries. I don’t really know any more about it than you do.

  9. HARTENSTEIN says:

    Help!My family history disappears before U.S.A. immigration.

  10. Szczepanski says:

    Wisnieski (Wisniewski) or Zielinski are not of Jewish origin. They are propably formed from names of polish towns or villages. However they are very popular so many lower-class people could have change their names to Wisniewski or Zielinski to give a noble sounding to their names. So it is possible that some assimilated polish Jews have change their names to Wisniewski or Zielinski.

  11. What I found fascinating about Jewish last names is that both Schneider (German, which I don’t know, for tailor) and Portnoy (Russian, of which I know some, is also tailor)are both comon Jewish last names. I would bet that the Hungarian and Polish words for tailor are also Jewish last names.

  12. What I found fascinating about Jewish last names is that both Schneider (German, which I don’t know, for tailor) and Portnoy (Russian, of which I know some, is also tailor)are both comon Jewish last names. I would bet that the Hungarian and Polish words for tailor are also Jewish last names.

  13. Jewish names in Spain would typically be toponymics, such as Castilla or Ríos, or city names (e.g. Moisés de Toledo). Also (after 1492) hyper-Catholic names featuring the Virgin and the saints – such as Santamaría or Santángel (like Luis de Santángel, Queen Isabella´s banker, who financed Columbus´s expedition).
    In my own case, one of my family names, Jubete, refers to the occupation of many Jewish families in Castile – tanning (a jubete,, like the French jouvet is a sort of leather doublet).

  14. Van Herwarde says:

    Is Van Herwarde a jew?

  15. Is Schnedlitz (from Austria) a Jewish last name?

  16. Is Simons a Jewish Surname?

  17. Steppinger says:

    I have heard that my great grand parents who emigrated from Austria-Hungary might have been Jewish because their name was Steppinger. Is this considered a Jewish name. They changed the name, in Europe, to Pusztafi. which has the same meaning as Steppinger. thank you

  18. Please tell me if my last name which can be spelled Jiminez, Himinetz, Chiminetz is Jewish or not???? PLEASE HELP! And aslo is Gutsu a jewish last name?
    Thank you!

  19. can you tell me if Feldkamp is a jewish last name?

  20. re the question if Van Herwarde is a jewish name: I suspect not. It sounds like a Dutch name related to the Herewaard, a polder in the Netherlands. van Herewarde would be someone coming from there. Most family names in the Netherlands date back to Napoleonic times when people were required to adopt a fixed family name for purposes of registering for conscription in Napoleon’s army. Prior, they might have just been Jansen (Johnson) with potential name changes each generation. After Napoleon was booted out, the Dutch kings continued the registry, to the distress of people wo had adopted “funny” names in the assumption that Napoleon would not last. To this day there are people with last names of the Dutch equivalent of Nudeborn or Riceass. Robert Katz

  21. can you tell me if SCHADE is a jewish german or pure german last name?

  22. Peter Schlesinger says:

    Can you tell me if Schlesinger is a Jewish name.
    My greatgrandfather was lutheran and fron that time my family has been catholic.

  23. ramon junemann says:

    Please, I need to confirm if my last name JUNEMANN is a german jewish last name as my friends say. Thank you veru much, Ramon.

  24. Walter Ehrlich says:

    Is Ehrlich a Jewish name?

  25. Marc Schomberg says:

    My dad has lost his father from a young age. His family came from Danemark and Germany, but he has been debating weather our last name “SCHOMBERG” is jewish or German. He recently found out that maybe yes, but simply based on the fact that many jewish names end by “BERG”. can you confirm for us that the name “Schomberg” is a jewish name or not? thx…

  26. aunamonous says:

    Cna you please let me know if Provenzano is a Jewish surname or not. I know it sounds Italian, but my ancestors, the Provenzanos, came from Provence, and I have heard that some Jews named their last names after different places. Also, I was wondering if Roman is a Jewish last name, because of the “man”. Thanx for all your help.

  27. William Mahr says:

    Is Mahr Jewish family name?

  28. My last name is Judin. I know Juden means Jew in German. So i am presuming Judin is jewish. I am not jewish and neither is my grandfather who’s name it is. Whats weird is that he fought for germany in WW2 with that name.

  29. Zollinger says:

    Is Zollinger a jewish name?
    what about the name Schroth??
    Anyone Know about these two names?

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