Names and their origins

This is the first in a short series we hope to be able to provide on names, family names and how they have changed over the years.

Most Jews arriving in the UK following The Readmission would not have had a Family Name in their country of origin: see   Sephardic Jews had their own naming patterns

With no such naming tradition behind them, Jews of Ashkenazi descent tended towards the simplest option and assumed their tribal name [Levy, Cohen etc.] or their patronymic Abraham son of Moses becomes Abraham MOSES; Moses son of Abraham becomes Moses ABRAHAMS.  In the years 1791–1830, out of a total of 3744 marriage partners listed in the Great Synagogue Marriage Records there were 351 called LEVY or LEVI, 225 SOLOMON(S), 188 JACOBS, and 160 MOSES. [Source: Great Synagogue Marraige Registers 1791-1850 Angela Shire*].

Since forenames at the time also tended to be limited to either biblical (Rachel\Esther\Abraham\Isaac) or very common English (Elizabeth\Ann\Mary\George\John) the difficulties of identifying individuals is very apparent

But, once people acquired a Family Name, they didn’t always keep it.   Take, for example, Henry Moses:

According to the 1851 Census, Henry was born in the UK, although we have no proof  that this was really the case.   Henry’s patronymic is Tsevi Hirsh b. Eliezer Wantsmoney (it is suggested this may be an English approximation of the place name Witzenheim although that seems a bit of a stretch!) At the time of his marriage in 1813, he is using the family name of MOSES. His son, Maurice, marries under this name in 1849 [Marriages Sep 1849 Birmingham 16 449 MOSES Maurice\\NEUSTADT Hannah Maria] as does another son, Samuel in 1861. But by 1871, both had acquired the name of BEDDINGTON, by which name they, and their descendants, were known thereafter.

Have you researched your family history and found changes in your family name? if so please add them in the comments section so we can all benefit, and try to knock down brick walls created by these changes.

*you can search the Great Synagogue marriages, and many other records by going to

For a list of first names see here:

1 comment for “Names and their origins

  1. nursing schools
    May 16, 2010 at 3:03 am

    What a great resource!

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