Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



Make a Name for Yourself

Libi Astaire

Some see in their family name a calling, a value system, or point of pride. It’s not just an appendage; it’s part of their identity. What stories do our names reveal about hidden histories and a precious past?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

When Dov Ber of Mezritch was only five years old, his parents’ house burned down to the ground. The child couldn’t understand why his mother was sobbing so bitterly.“I’m not crying about the house,” she assured her small son. “But our family tree was in the house, and now it’s been destroyed. It showed how we can trace our lineage all the way back to RabiYochananHasandlar, a disciple of RabiAkiva.”“Don’t worry,” replied the future Maggid of Mezritch, who would lead the chassidic movement after the passing of the Baal Shem Tov. “Our pedigree will start again with me.”In the end, we know who we are: the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. There’s no greater yichus than that. But what about the generations between the Avos and ourselves? For many of us, our last names provide valuable clues to the origins, travails, and sometimes prominence of the ancestors who link us to the past. For all the historic significance we accord them, family names are a fairly recent innovation. In the beginning, we were Moshe ben Yaakov or Sarah bas Eliyahu; we were the children of somebody, and that parental connection was enough of an identifier. In larger towns, where enough of us had the same names to make things confusing, a profession or some personal characteristic might have been tacked on to distinguish Moshe ben Yaakov the Sandlar from Moshe ben Yaakov the Short One. However, the idea of everyone having a surname didn’t come about until much later, when we were already in galus.

To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


MM217
 
Weekly Struggle
Shoshana Friedman Cover text: promise big and deliver what we promise
Only Through You
Rabbi Moshe Grylak A response to last week’s letter, “Waiting in Passaic”
No Image Available
Are You Making a Kiddush Hashem?
Yonoson Rosenblum In communal affairs, “one bad apple…” often applies
Chance of a Lifetime
Eytan Kobre I identify with the urge to shout, “No, don’t do it!”
No Image Available
Work / Life Solutions with Bunim Laskin
Moe Mernick "You only get every day once"
Seeking a Truly Meaningful Blessing
Dovid Zaidman We want to get married. Help us want to date
Shivah Meditations
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Equivalence between two such polar opposites is puzzling
Magnet Moment
Jacob L. Freedman Everyone’s fighting a battle we know nothing about
Secrets and Surprises
Riki Goldstein Top-secret suits Eli Gerstner just fine
Blasts of Warmth
Riki Goldstein Keeping the chuppah music upbeat in low temperatures
Behind the Scenes
Faigy Peritzman The intricate value of each mitzvah
Good Vision
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Good or bad, nice or not? What you see is what you get
Day of Peace
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz On Shabbos we celebrate peace within and without