On Jewish Names and Naming Traditions

So yesterday, I spent dissecting the Jewish names in my family.

We've two branches on our Jewish family tree: The Seneft (sometimes spelled Senft)/Hillingers (originally Hilinger), and the Kresch/Reich-es.

The Seneft Family was located in Galaicia in a town called Sedziszow, which was either west and south of Rzeszow in what is now Poland, or a good deal further west and just north of Krakow. I'm leaning toward the idea that they were north of Krakow, as the other location seems far too close to the location I have for Dora's family to make sense for them never to have met.

Leon Seneft has a first name which sounds a bit too anglicized for me, and I need to look into Yiddish/Hebrew variations of the name. I don't know if he was born in Galicia, as I have no record of him beyond the few mentions my grandfather made, a slight mention in my grandfather's birth documents, and a ships' manifest his daughter was on mentioning him as her closest relation.

His surname is another problem all together. Not Yiddish at all, but German. Very German, in fact. Seneft is a Germanic surname meaning "mustard seller." How a Jewish man would end up with such a German name confuses me, so I'm wondering if it was an imposed name for official documents, and there was another more Hebraic surname used in other documents that I don't know at all, or if he used that in England exclusively, and something else beforehand…it's all very frustrating. I do know that a search for Seneft or Senft in that area comes up with almost no hits at all.

His wife, Mindel Hilinger has a much more Jewish first name, though her surname, again, is not very Jewish at all. Despite that, however, I do know that there are many references to Hilingers/Hillingers/Hellingers and many other variations of the surname in the area, if not as many as the other half of my Jewish family tree. Mindel is a bit of a puzzle, though, because Mindel is more commonly a boy's name, and not a girl's name. So that makes me go hmm as well. Unfortunately, I have even less record of her than of her husband, who I have at least found some document of, if not much. The only mention I have of her that I can think of is on Alex and Dora's family book information, when it covers the parents of the couple, and that is scarce at best. I do know there is a possible Austrian connection for this branch of the family, as that seems to be where the Hillinger name is centralized.

Leon and Mindel had at least five children, though there may have been more. But this is where the true Anglicization of names come in. They moved to England when most of the children were small, and so the kids grew up with English nicknames rather than Yiddish/Jewish ones.

My great-grandfather was Alex, though I believe he was born Elias. I don't think the two are an exact match, but I have found a record for an Alex Hilinger variant—Sander Hillenger, a Jewish form of Alexander, which may have been related to my great-great grandmother in some way, so the name may have passed down to my great-grandfather. I also know that at different times his name was spelled different ways—both Alex and Alec.

His siblings all had similar Anglicized names: Annie, Jennie and Jack. There was a third brother, but I don't yet know his name, so I don't know what he may have gone by either way. Jack I assume was probably a form of Jacob, though it may have been something else…Ichak (or other forms of Isaac), perhaps. Annie, I have just discovered, may have been changed from Chana, which was a common translation to English. Other possible options for her name are Chaya, Hinda, Nechama, and Elka, among others. For Jennie, a very common Anglicization, I've found: Shaina, Zelda, Chana, and Gitel, among many others.

On the other side of this part of my family tree, I have Benzion Kresch, and his wife, Fiege Golda Reich. Their daughter, my great-grandmother Dora, was born in Czudek, Galicia, if I have translated my documents right. The town I've found on the map is just west and south of Rzeszow in Poland. Both of her parents have extremely common names for their location, Benzion is one of many forms of the given name Benjamin, and Kresch seems to be a very common surname in the area. Feige and Golda are also very common, and Reich was common in both Jewish and non-Jewish families.

Unfortunately, this means I'm basically looking for the Jewish form of Jones or Hansen on this side of the family, which makes finding them highly unlikely. I did find information today that says that Jewish children were often named for already dead grandparents, and given that my great-uncle, my grandfather's brother, was named Ben, I know that means my great-grandmother's father must have died before 1920. 1919, if the wedding announcement is to be believed, as it only lists "Frou Kresch" as announcing her daughter's marriage, along with Leon Seneft, Alex's father.

As for where Benzion and Fiege were born, I've no clue. The few documents I have on them tell me very little, aside from the fact that Fiege lived in Czudek, and that Benzion was a teacher who traveled from town to town. It is possible that if any of this branch have Ukranian connections, it would be Benzion's side, though I have no proof of that at this time.

Then there is my great-grandmother Dora and her sister Minna. At this time, these are the only two children I have for this pair. Minna (Mina?) was the name Dora and Alex chose for my grandfather's twin sister, so she may have been named for her aunt, though it was not common to name a child for a living relation at the time, so it's possible she was either dead (though I think not—I believe I have a photo of her in the 40s at one of their daughters' weddings). I'm inclined to wonder if both Dora and her sister's names weren't diminutives of some longer name, given neither sound particularly Jewish to me (though I suppose I could be wrong).

To add to this confusion, today I read through the Jewish Given Names article at JewishGen.org, only to discover that there is likely even more confusion on both sides than I'm aware, given that Galicia had so many different language groups, including Hebrew and Yiddish for the Jewish population. At any one time, you might have Polish, German, or even Russian translations of names as well as the Yiddish or Hebraic names. Which means that just about every document you read is likely to have a different version of the person's name, depending on who wrote it, what language it was written in, and the reason it was written.

And the worst of it all…this is only 1/4 of my family tree… I swear, I could write a book on names and naming traditions…


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About this blog

This blog is maintained by two sisters who have had a life long interest in geneology.
Mika writes here mostly about our family (Hansen, Hillinger, Bordewick, Park, etc), and her search for more information.
Shannon mostly uses this space as a place to make the many stories written about and by her husband's family (Holly, Walker, Walpole, etc) available to the rest of the family, present and future.

Our blog is named Oh Spusch! mostly because Shannon is bad at naming things. The first post I put up includes a story about the time Walker's great grandfather took his whole family out to see a play and the littlest kept saying "Oh! Spusch!" No one ever figured out what she meant by that.