After twenty-five years of building databases of Sephardic genealogical interest covering many countries where Sephardim have lived, the time has come to learn which surnames used in medieval Spain have survived for the last five hundred years in the Sephardic Diaspora.
This six-year project is based on a huge survey of data found in 138 books1
, some 600 periodical issues 2
held at the National Library of Israel, the Library of the Ben Zvi Institute, the Library of the Cervantes Institute in Tel Aviv, two private book collections, a research published on the website of the International Institute of Jewish Genealogy at : http://www.iijg.org/Research/IijgResearch/CerveraNotarialArchives.aspx as well as several relevant documents found at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People.
These books and articles 3
contain lists of names essentially uncovered in notarial and Royal Court archival material written in Spanish, Catalan or Latin and some ones in French. These last concern the present French Catalonia.
All the names have been gathered into a database.
Each item in the database was entered in a manner that enaables an easy retrieval of the source. It also comprises two important elements: the year and the place, when and where the name has been recorded. In the Annex, one will find the list of all the sources4
from which the surnames were listed.
This is how the database looks
Jucef ben Ezmael
Carrasco, Juan et al.
Los judíos del Reino de Navarra
Haim ben Isaac
Lascorz Arcas, F. A.
La aljama judía de Monzón, la recordada.
1 See their list in the annex. Another 90 books were of no value for this survey.
21.The bi-annual review Sefarad published in Madrid from 1941 till today.
2. the French scholarly Revue des Etudes Juives that began to appear in Paris in 1881 and continue to do so till our days
3. The Jewish Quarterly Review ublished from 1889, first in London and today in Philadelphia.
3This collection is certainly not exhaustive as only in Spain can one find all the books and articles written about pre-expulsion Jews.
The database comprises 20,526 citations for 12,1134 unique name spellings
The Surviving Surnames
Once the database was built, the third and most important and hard step was to browse this list of 12,140 unique medieval spellings of names and try to uncover if they have survived after 500 years. To do so, the following points had to be first clarified :
I. The spellings
1. Surnames were written in three or four different languages as mentionned above.
II. Finding out the surviving names
2. Medieval scribes of the notaries as those of the Royal Court wrote down the names as they thought they heard or understood them.
3. In those times names did not yet have a fixed orthography. It hapenned that a single document contained two or three different spellings of a same name. So no wonder that a surviving name has even sixty different spellings.
III. Language origins
One of the first things to do was to « clean up » or separate the names from their numerous prefixes in order to be able to find out the surviving names.
A/The:: A, Al, Ça, Des, Dez, El, Ha, L’, La, Sa
Father of:: Abo, Abu, Abul, Bu
From:: D’, De, De la, Del, Den
Qualifier or title:: Bel, Bien, Bon, Buen, Don
Son of:: Ab, Abe, Aben, Abi, Abin, Abn, Amna, Apen, Auen, Aven, Avin, Bar, Bem, Ben, Eben, Em, En, Euen. Even, Ibn, Haben, N’, Na, Uen, Ven
The prefixes are in several languages : Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew, Catalan and Spanish. Many are deformations or contractions of the original such as N’ for Ibn.
A set of dictionaries of Sephardic surnames was used in order to check the existence of the name as well as the spelling of its root.
So no wonder that 5,309 medieval spellings of names were found as related to 679 surviving root names
Everywhere, in medieval Spain included, Jews used Hebrew names. With the Muslim conquest of Spain, Arabic became the spoken language from the beginning of the 8th century until the 12th century – end of the Golden Age and beguining of the « Reconquista », the era during which Christian Kings enlarged more and more the Spanish Christian territory. From then till the July 1492 expulsion, Jews used Spanish.
Jews’ surnames indeed reflect their history in medieval Spain.
IV. Using the Database
The language distribution of these 685 root names is as follows:
Spanish – 344 Names; Hebrew – 210 Names; Arabic – 129 Names; Other – 1.
The search engine will help you
• In case the searched name is a composed one such as Ben Sussan, better to search for « Sussan » with the « contains » option. The result will bring Ben Sussan as well Sussan.
• When reading medieval names, take in account the pronunciation of the Spanish language in these times. For example J=J and not the actual guttural sound, X=Sh, B and V are interchangeable etc.
• Only three abbreviations have been used for the periodical names : JQR- Jewish Quartely Review ; REJ –Revue des Etudes Juives ; Sef – Sefarad.
Amsterdam: Verdooner, Dave & Harmen Snel
Sephardic Surname Dictionaries and Records
, Jewish Marriage in Amsterdam 1598-1811. 2v.
General: Faiguenboim, Guillerme et al., Dictionary of Sephardic Surnames. San Paolo: 2003
Greece : Moissis, Asher
, Les Noms de Juifs de Grèce. Gordes, 1992.
Hamburg: Stundemund-Halevy, Michael
. Biographisches Lexikon der Hamburger Sefarden. Hamburg: Christians Verlag, 2000.
Italy: Schaerf, Samuele
, I cognomi degli ebrei d'Italia : con un'appendice su le famiglie nobili ebree d'Italia. Verbania: Alberti; 2006.
London: Bevis Marks Records
, Part VI; Burial register (1733-1918) of the Novo Cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation. London, Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, 1988.
Morocco : Laredo, Abraham
, Les noms des Juifs du Maroc. Madrid, 1978.
North Africa : Eisenbeth, Maurice
, Les Juifs d'Afrique du Nord : démographie et onomastique. Alger: 1936.
North Africa : Taieb, Jacques
, Juifs du Maghreb; Noms de famille et société. Paris: 2004.
North Africa : Toledano, Joseph
, Une histoire de familles; les noms de familles juifs d’Afrique du Nord. Jérusalem: 1999.
Tunisia : Sebag, Paul
, Les noms des Juifs de Tunisie. Paris: 2002.
Turkey: Pinto, Baruh
, The Sephardic Onomasticon; An Etymological Research on Sephardic Family Names of the Jews Living in Turkey. Istanbul: 2004.
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Consider alternative name spellings. Remember that medieval names used many different spellings which also included characters like Ç , ň , etc. (See introduction above) So be creative!