By your leave, my name is …


… Adler, Biermann, Goldmann, Hirsch, Kaufmann, Levy, Meir, Rothschild, Schwarz, Stern, Teitelbaum, etc. The use of German family names became obligatory for Jews under Joseph II.

In addition to the civil rights granted to Jews, which were laid down in the Tolerance Patents, in a further Patent of 23 July 1787 Joseph II ordained that Jews must bear German first names and family names. The names available for selection were given in an alphabetical register. The Jewish family names were not, if at all possible, to be distinguished from German names, in order to promote integration. Only names with ‘German and Christian’ pronunciation were therefore permitted. Applicants could not always raise the necessary money for their preferred names, in which case names were duly distributed by the administrative authorities. This frequently led to cruel jokes on the part of low-ranking officials. Insulting names were given, such as Trinker (drinker), Maulwurf (mole) or Bettelarm (pauper). The ‘chosen’ names were frequently taken from the Bible (Levy, Hirsch) or symbolic colours from flags (Roth/red, Schwarz/black) or referred to fruit from the Holy Land (Teitelbaum – Dattelbaum/date tree). They also included names referring to professions or places (Biermann, Goldmann, Kaufmann/merchant).

Anita Winkler