Meaning and origin of Jewish surnames (Patronymics)


Patronymics: surnames that come from father's name

Patronymics refers to name of the father. Based on the Biblical form: Itzhak Ben Abraham. This form was used in a lot of cultures to build the surnames.

Usually the patronimyc is formed by adding to the name of the father the following sufixes:

OV/OW/OFF
EV/EW/EFF
OVICH/OWICZ
EVICH/EWICZ
SON/ZON/SOHN/SONAS/ZONAS

The OV/OFF/OW and OVICH/OWICZ endings are typical Russian forms. In Russia the costume is to mention the name of the father with the ending OVICH or EVICH as a middle name of a man. And the ending OVNA/EVNA for a woman.
A good example of this is Iury Alexisiev Gagarin or Tatyana Nikolayevna Romanova.

At the moment of the surname assignament for Jewish people (about 1835) this type of surnames were formed with the Hebrew or Yiddish name of the father adding the Russian sufixes.

These are some examples:

Mendelevich: from the Yddish given name Mendel
Abrahamoff from the Hebrew biblical name Abraham
Movshovich from the Hebrew biblical name Moshe (Moses, Moyshe)

You can also find these surnames written in a Polish form. After World War I, Poland came into existence again as a country and all names were written in Latin characters instead of Cyrillic. According to their pronunciation:

Mendelevich => MENDELEWICZ
Abramoff => ABRAMOW
Movshovich => MOWSZOWICZ


The SOHN/SON/ZON endings come from Germanic based languages (even Yiddish):

These are some examples:

Isaacson: from the Hebrew biblical given name Itzhak/Isaac
Nissensohn: from the Yiddish given name Nissen/Nussen (Nathan in Hebrew)
Jacobson: from the Hebrew biblical Jacob
Mendelson: from the Yiddish given name Mendel (it means «almond»)

The SONAS/ZONAS endings are related to the Lithuanian costume:

Abramsonas: The Lithuanian form of the patronymic for the name Abraham
Berelzonas: The Lithuanian form of the patronymic for the Yiddish given name Berel


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