Commentary Magazine

Names, Fine & Otherwise

To the Editor:

In his interesting article on “Jewish Surnames Through the Ages,” (September), Dr. Benzion C. Kaganoff seems to have been slightly mistaken about the not so fine-sounding names Jews sometimes happened to be stuck with. There is nothing wrong with the family name of Salz (salt) and its derivates, such as Salzmann and Salzer; Nierenstein seems to be related to the famous wine-producing village of Nierstein in the Rhineland; Garfunkel has nothing to do with carbuncles, but has its source in the ancient German word Karfunkel or Karfunkelstein, meaning diamond. The Gorfinkels, Finkelsteins, and Finkels actually belong to the type of “fine-sounding” names in the “diamond” group, viz: Edelstein, Saphir, Diamant, and Burla.

As to ugly-sounding Jewish names, some examples are Affenkraut (monkey weed), Verderber (despoiler), and Borgenicht (doesn’t borrow), all of which occur in fact—I came across them twenty-six years ago in Leipzig.

Finally, during the name-adoption period, some Jewish families in Germany quite deliberately adopted Hebrew surnames, such as Eldod, Japhet, and Josaphat, thus refusing to become assimilated even in their family names!

Perez Tura
Givataim, Israel


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