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.


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

  30. Bill Garlick says

    Trying to find ancestry of Garlick in New York / New England area. Belive to be of Jewish decent

  31. I imagine you’ve already seen this, but it’s all I have to offer.

  32. A bit of additional info:

    Schlesinger means simply “person from Silesia”. Per English Wiki, Silesian German for Silesia is Schläsing.

    Wisniewski: This is a Polish surname. It has something do with cherries or cherry trees.
    Feldkamp: Sounds like it means ‘fighter’s field” or similar in German.
    Ehrlich means honest or straightforward in German and Yiddish.

    Hat wrote in 2003 that Szymanski is a derivative of Simon (Hebrew שמעון). That’s a real curiosity for me, as my maternal grandfather’s surname was Zamo(n)sky. I placed the N in brackets because some members of the clan spelled the name with it and others without. As far as I know, the original spelling was without the N though pronounced as if it were there. I don’t know the name for this phenomenon, though one also encounters it in such Polish names as Lech Walesa. There’s a town in southeastern Poland called Zamosc, though no relative I know of came from there.

  33. I placed the N in brackets because some members of the clan spelled the name with it and others without. As far as I know, the original spelling was without the N though pronounced as if it were there. I don’t know the name for this phenomenon, though one also encounters it in such Polish names as Lech Walesa.

    It’s the Polish nasal vowels, ą (pronounced /ɔw̃/) and ę (/ɛw̃/, /ɛn/, /ɛm/, or /ɛ/, depending on context). See Polish phonology.

  34. Paul, Zamość has an illustrious history, going back to its founding as a Renaissance-modeled city, by Jan Zamoyski. The Zamoyskis are an old noble family, but I don’t know if Zamosky or Zamonsky [sic] are variants of that name, or if any Jews took it on.

    Paul, could Zamonski be an Americanized spelling of Szymanski, or do you have evidence that this spelling was brought over from Poland?

  35. I’m aware of the history of Zamosc and know a little about Jan Zamoyski. One of my cousins visited the town a number of years ago and swore up and down that he was treated like royalty, going so far as to claim that somehow we are related to Zamoyski himself. I have no direct evidence pointing to the spelling of the family surname in Poland. My great-grandfather’s Canadian naturalization record has Zamosky. My great-grandmother’s gravestone (1922) is inscribed Zamosky; my great-grandfather’s gravestone (1933) has it spelled Zamonsky. I haven’t searched for an entry record at either Halifax or Ellis Island/Castle Garden.

  36. Zamość means “beyond the bridge” in Polish (Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian versions are almost identical to Polish)

    I checked the Wiki and found out that the surname Zamojski comes from village of Stary Zamość 11 km northwest of Zamość . The river in question is called Labunka, it’s a rather small, but got a bridge, on the road to Stary Zamosc which lies 3 kilometers to the northeast.

  37. So ‘Stary Zamość’ means “beyond the old bridge”?

  38. No, it means Old Zamość (presumably so renamed after the newer town arose.)

  39. It’s not like people commonly got surnames after the places where they actually lived – because everybody in town would have had a good claim on the same name. It just wouldn’t tell anything specific about this partiular household. The geographic surnames more commonly refer to people whose *ancestors* came from town X, or who traveled there or had business or a misadventure with people there or who dreamed of going there.

  40. David Marjanović says

    Feldkamp: Sounds like it means ‘fighter’s field” or similar in German.

    Would require French word order, though. *Feldkampf would be “fieldfight”, which doesn’t make much sense… hm… offene Feldschlacht is “open battle” (on a plain without obstacles)…

    ą (pronounced /ɔw̃/) and ę (/ɛw̃/, /ɛn/, /ɛm/, or /ɛ/, depending on context)

    Having been surrounded by native speakers from all over Poland for a week now, I’d say ę is nowadays [ε̃] by default, though a nasal consonant is inserted behind it more readily than in French: język “tongue, language” has a loud and clear [n] in it. While ą is similarly [ɔ̃] by default, at least the feminine instrumental singular ending -ą does (often or always) turn into a diphthong very similar to its Czech cognate -ou.

  41. Good to know; I always pronounced them [ε̃] and [ɔ̃] and was distressed to see the Wikipedia information, so I’m glad I can stick with my old versions.

  42. David Marjanović says

    A schoolmate did pronounce the ę in her name as a diphthong; I guess that’s old-fashioned or something.

  43. On Feldkamp: In some Northern German dialects (e.g. on the Lower Rhine), Kamp (still) means “field”, so the name doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with fighting.

  44. David Marjanović says

    Kamp (still) means “field”


  45. Kamp (still) means “field”

    So Feldkamp means field-field?

  46. “So Feldkamp means field-field?”

    It may mean – “wild field”/”tilled field.”

  47. Im Vivas.
    Is my last name.
    Is it Jewish??.is a very rare last name

  48. Chase schade says

    I recently have been told that I’m of jewish, German heritage. Can you please tell me of the last name of , schade is? Thanks for your attention and answer. Chase

  49. David Marjanović says

    Schade is used in German for “that’s a pity”, “too bad”. Schaden, with a -n that’s historically not very stable, means “damage”. That’s all I know.

  50. a surname does not mean anything ….. look at the Italian surnames I find various lists of surnames that have nothing to do with Jewish culture and with Jewish descent ……… a trivial example surnames of places these surnames existed before the Jews took the name, the majority of these surnames 95% carry it people who with Judaism have nothing to do but are Catholics.
    but the same families are Italian without Jewish roots.
    to know if one of Jewish origin must do a genealogical research.
    kind regards

  51. Thanks to Fabrizio for drawing me back to this page to see “People, this is not the ‘Who’s a Jew?’ website” again after some years.

  52. Шелк, хазары и «Рабоне шел олам»
    Хорезм и Бухара: две истории евреев Центральной Азии

    The paper in English linked to from

    The Jewish Communities of Central Asia in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods

  53. The Diaspora Museum (Beit Ha-Tfutsot) has quite a (negative) reputation in the genealogy circles for its dilettantism, aplomb, and zeal to collect money for faulty and useless information, both on genealogy and on onomastics. Abba Kovner was an amazing person, but the museum he created and promoted doesn’t do justice to his name. Or maybe one should say, the museum is less talented yet more controversial than its creator.

    Its story about “the old roots of the Jewish surnames” may be even more faulty than average, because most of today’s Jews are Ashkenazim, and the Ashkenazi tradition categorically rejected the very notion of a family name. Most of the surnames the Ashkenazi Jews have today are very recent in origin, first given on the orders of monarchies of Austro-Hungary, Prussia and Russia between the 1790s and the 1820s with an explicit purpose to facilitate taxation, military draft, and law enforcement. The Jews were no more attached to these government-imposed identifiers than we are to our taxpayer id numbers today, and replaced the unloved surnames at every opportunity, especially when moving to different countries. Even as late as in the 1920s, small-town Jewish cemeteries didn’t use surnames on the grave markers, the funeral rites being, as always, the ultimate refuges of the fading traditions.

    I would recommend Alexander Beider’s excellent articles, books, and video lectures as a guide to types and stories of the Jewish surnames. An index to his encyclopedias is available online at

  54. Thanks for that sobering information!

  55. Before people rush in with counterexamples of occasional ancient surnames among Ashkenazi, let me explain that, although in general the “tribal belonging” of the Jews was matrilineal, and although in traditional Ashkenazi law the women possessed property and had broad divorce and inheritance rights, some things were quite strictly patrilineal, especially traditional roles of the religious service. As the result, there were some semi-hereditary honorifics which behaved more or less like surnames.

    Chief among them are the Aaronic tribal markers of the Temple priests and servants (Cohahim and Levites) which, in modern time, each resulted in a cluster of surnames (although not all Cohanims are Cohens and Kagans etc.).

    There are also names of dynasties of religious scholars which also became surnames in modern age, but which used to be passed not just to sons, but also to sons-in-law or nephews whose lines remained “in the business” of rabbinical learning, and sometimes to students and admirers, much to the chagrin of modern Y-DNA aficionados.

    Surnames known in medieval Spain did occasionally surface in the old Russian Empire after it started requiring surnames beginning in 1804, and there is really no clarity about their origin, but presumably it was based either on the family legends of their very distant origins, or on admiration and zeal to imitate the famous thinkers. We all heard a story how a Diaspora Museum representative took money for a search and came back declaring that there is no such Jewish surname as Don-Yahya, completely discouraging the seeker from interviewing the oldtimers in her family (Even though the name was, in several spellings, quite widespread in Old Russia, and clearly referred to a legendary ancestor Don Yahya ben Yahya in Spain)

  56. IIRC, it was proven that the entire Ashkenazim population is descended from about a couple of hundred people who lived in western Germany in 14th century.

    Doesn’t look good for survival of ancient surnames

  57. That’s an effective population size Ne, a statistical metric, which can be as low as 400. The real population sizes are always substantially larger than Ne for two reasons: not all of the ancestors left noticeable DNA contributions in the tested descendants, and the ancestral populations aren’t homogeneous ( if minor subpopulations have not experienced population bottlenecks like the one which affected the majority , it will make only a slight effect on Ne).

    Specifically with Ashkenazi Jews, the most severe bottleneck was experienced by the ancestors of the Litvak Jews in the 1500s. In contrast, Jewish Western Europeans always numbered many thousands, but their population was relatively stagnant and was far eclipsed in size by the descendants of the Litvaks. So today’s Ne mostly reflects the population bottleneck of the Litvak group, and is quite far from the actual historic numbers

  58. Laura ferrara says

    Many surnames take for example Eastern European surnames, similar to many surnames and Italians, yet many of these Italian surnames have nothing to do with Judaism !!!!! other research done by scholars and researchers say that it is absolutely not true that those who carry a city surname or a trade surname are of Jewish origin, indeed cases that are of Jewish origin are very rare.
    many surnames that claim to be of Jewish origin existed in Germany, Italy, Greece, Spain, before the Jews arrived in these countries.

  59. In addition, intermarriage, conversion, and the spread of patrilineal surnaming customs have greatly increased the number of halakhic Jews with “Gentile” surnames and vice versa

  60. I will register again my strongly held opinion that the halakhic definition of Jewish identity is i) racially offensive, ii) ahistorical, and iii) theologically indefensible.

  61. Quite so.

  62. Melissa Davey says

    I am looking to find out more about my ancestors from Germany. Last name Schade or possibly Krauss. While none practiced Jewish faith in America, nor did they say they were Jewish, my DNA shows 24% Jewish which is a surprise as no one in the family knows.

    Can you help me understand if one or both of the names above have Jews sh ancestral connections?

    Thank you.

  63. I can only say that neither of those names is a “typical Jewish” name, and Krause is a very frequent last name.

  64. 24% is a lot for no one in the family to know. It must have been a closely held secret. Certainly at the time of the Holocaust, many people covered up such things. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright said that she had been unaware of her Jewish background before reporters turned up what had happened. 3 of her grandparents had been killed by the Nazis.

    And I believe some Jewish families sent children from Germany for adoption because the adults couldn’t get out and feared for their kids. Well-meaning new parents often believed it was best not to let a child know they were adopted in those days, regardless of any religious or other background.

    A lot of times the ancestral DNA services offer a way to find other people who’ve been tested who have similar DNA, and that might help you figure out which line it came from. Ie., you might notice someone named Schade on one of those trees. Someone who was knowledgeable could look at mtDNA and y-chromosome and would likely be able to tell you whether the Jewish ancestry came from your father’s father, your mother’s mother, or one of the other two grandparents (which wouldn’t be distinguishable.)

    But I couldn’t do that, nor even tell you who could. Never having been tested, I don’t even know how much info they give you.

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