We use cookies to provide some features and experiences in QOSHE

More information  .  Close
Aa Aa Aa
- A +

What’s in a name? A Rosen by any other name would smell as sweet

12 0 0

Why do I, a Behr, have so many relatives in South Africa named Benn and even a cousin in the United States named Mehr? My father once explained this to me as follows: once upon a time, in far off Lithuania, there were three brothers whose father (my great grandfather), also with the surname Behr, lived in morbid dread of one or more of his sons falling into the clutches of the ‘chappers‘ (snatchers). These were bands of militia who patrolled the streets looking for little Jewish boys to be pressed into the Russian army. The chances of this ugly scenario arising were apparently reduced if it could be shown that the child was an only son and therefore needed by his parents for their well-being, if not their very survival. The solution was therefore to confer different names on each male child of the household.

I’m not sure how this would have worked in practice, or even whether it worked at all in many cases. It would have required official documentation and probably ancillary devices such as recourse to bribery in that brutal and corrupt world. At any rate that is how three little boys with the same father grew up with three different surnames to spawn generations of relatives who ever since have been puzzling over their relationships with one another.

This brings me to the main function of a name as I see it, which is to shape the identity of a given individual so that he or she stands out from the crowd. Some of my Jewish associates have surnames pointing to an ancestor’s occupation (Schneider the tailor, Katzeff the butcher and Shochet the slaughterer, for example). Other names denote membership of a religious tribe, a fact to which the........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

Get it on Google Play