KINNUIM and COUPLETS
The use of alternative names by Jewish families
by James B. Koenig
(first published in ZichronNote, vol. XXII, number 2, page 15, May 2002)
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Occasionally, while doing research, a genealogist may come across the name
of a family member that is puzzling. As a hypothetical example, let us say that
great-grandfather Abraham was born in the same year as another member of the
family named Kalman. Are they twins, one of whom appears only episodically in
documents? Or, are they the same person, somehow known by different names? Why
is great-aunt Feige sometimes called Tsipporah? And can distant cousin Shlomo
also be Gottlieb and Yedidiah, as mentioned in family letters?
Understanding the use of alternative names is at the heart of Jewish genealogy.
In Eastern and Central Europe of the 18th to 20th Century, most Jews carried more than one name. There was the Shem haKodesh, or sacred name, which was registered at the synagogue shortly after birth, and used for important ritual occasions. In addition, a secular name was registered with the government authorities. This might be the same name as the Shem haKodesh, perhaps spelled somewhat differently, to reflect the patterns of the local language (for example, the Polish spelling Icik for Isaac/Yitzhak).
Often, however, a different secular name was chosen. This might be the Yiddish-language version of the Shem haKodesh (such as Osher for Asher). Or, it might be any name chosen from the local national language.
If the secular name carried a meaning similar (or even generally related) to the sacred name, it is known as a calque.
A calque is a translation. For example, the French name Bonhomme has essentially the same meaning as the German name Guttmann, ‘a good man’. In Yiddish, Guttmann becomes Gutman, and Bonhomme is reduced to Bunem. One is a calque of the other.
The Hebrew name Tuvia/Toviya means ‘God is good’. Although the meaning is not exactly equal, Bunem and Gutman are calques for Tuvia/Toviya. Both Bunem and Gutman were used regularly in place of Tuvia/Toviya, either in official documents or in everyday conversation.
In Hebrew Tsipporah/Ziporah means ‘a bird’. From the German word ‘vogel’, meaning ‘a bird’, comes the Yiddish feminine name Feige/Feyga. Feige/Feyga is a calque for Tsipporah/Ziporah.
Simcha (‘joy’ in Hebrew) can be a masculine or feminine name. The German word ‘freude’ means ‘joy’, and from this were derived the Yiddish feminine name Freyde/Freda and masculine name Freydman. Both are calques for Simcha.
For men, the Shem haKodesh was almost always a Hebrew-language name. There were about 100 such names in regular or occasional use in Eastern and Central Europe.
Calques typically were words taken from local languages and used as names, such as Gutman or Bunem.
For women, the picture was significantly different. Because women had a lesser role in the synagogue, there was less significance in establishing a feminine Shem haKodesh.
Very few Hebrew-language women’s names were in regular or occasional use, probably less than 40 in all. To make up for this shortfall in names, a large number of words from various European languages were turned into feminine names: Sheine/Sheyna,Beile/Beyla, Golda/Golde, for example. A few, such as Feige/Feyga, were calques of Hebrew names.
Most secular names had no relationship in meaning to the sacred names, either masculine or feminine. A few, however, became so closely associated with specific Shemot haKodesh that they became almost inseparable. Those secular names, different in meaning from the sacred name but closely associated with it, are called kinnuim (singular: kinnui). Kinnuim could be used to replace the sacred name in everyday use.
For example, the Yiddish name Anshel/Anchil is derived from the German name Anselm, whose meaning is very different from that of the Hebrew Asher. However, Anshel/Anchil was so commonly used as a secular name to supplement Asher that it became a kinnui for Asher, replacing it in everyday use. Even further, the names were so closely intertwined that they were used together as if they were a couplet: Asher Anshel (or Osher Onchil in a dialect of Yiddish).
It must be stressed that calques and kinnuim are not diminutives or nicknames. Diminutives are shortened or lengthened or internally modified forms of a given name: for example, diminutives of Yakov (Jacob) included the shortened form Yakl, the lengthened form Yakushke, the truncated form Kof, the ornamental form Kofman, and the internally modified form Yankel. None of these is a calque or kinnui for Yakov/Jacob.
The calques and kinnuim for certain Hebrew names were in such common use that someone hearing the kinnui Falk would understand that a person named Joshua was being talked about.
The table (click here) shows some of the calques, kinnuim and couplets that were in use in 18th to 20th Century Eastern and Central Europe. The list is not complete. Most of the listed names were in common use, but some may have been used only in certain districts or countries. In addition to the spellings given, there are numerous others, reflecting variations in pronunciation in Yiddish and local languages.
It can be seen that several of the masculine calques and kinnuim are used for more than one Hebrew name. Among these are: Selig/Zelik (‘happy, blessed’), Zusman/Susman (‘sweet man’), Zuskind/Ziskind/Suskind (‘sweet child’, except perhaps in the case of Alexander, where it may derive from words meaning ‘victorious warrior’), Bunem (‘good man’), and Feyvush/Faibish (indicating ‘light’, ‘brightness’, ‘illumination’). These kinnuim are used for the names of Biblical prophets, religious leaders, great kings, and other revered figures. As such, these are attribute names: it is the inferred attributes of these honored figures that are celebrated in kinnuim.
Other kinnuim are based on euphony, the pleasing sound of words that sound (somewhat) alike: Mikhail Yekhiel; Menahem Mendel; Asher Anshel, for example. Still others are based on the animal-like attributes of four of the sons of Jacob and one of his grandsons: Judah, the lion; Benjamin, the wolf; Naftali, the deer; and Issachar, the bear; plus Ephraim, the fish.
Certain names appear often as couplets. Judah Leib and Aryeh Leib, Issachar Ber or Dov Ber, Naftali Hersh or Hersh Tsvi, and Benjamin Wolf or Wolf Ze’ev derive from the four sons mentioned above. Shlomo Zalman, Joshua Falk, Hanokh Zundel, Alexander Ziskind, Mikhail Yechiel, Asher Anshel, Menahem Mendel, Uri Shraga, Uri Feyvush, Baruch Bendet, Simcha Bunem and Shneor Zalman are other well-known couplet names. In these cases, the calque or kinnui is used as if it were a middle given name.
In a few cases, triplet names appear. The best known of these are: Uri Shraga Feyvush and Judah Leib Aryeh.
Finally, a few women’s names are run together into new name combinations. Some of these may have multiple origins, but most likely Khayena/Haiyenna is Khaya + Khana/Hannah; Khayetta/Khayeta is Khaya + Ester/Esther; Khayasora is Khaya + Sora/Sarah; and Maryasha is Miryam + Rachel/Rakheil.
Researchers may encounter one or more of these names or name sets in their family histories. The lists given herein are not to be used as dogma but rather as general guides in unraveling puzzles or resolving uncertainties. To answer the questions posed at the beginning of this article, yes, Abraham has Kalman as a kinnui, Feige is a calque for Tsipporah, and Shlomo/Solomon can be known on occasion as Gottlieb and Yedidiah, as well as the more common Zalman.
Sources for this paper include published works by Rabbi Shlomo Gorr, Dr. Aleksander Beider, Michael Falk, Professor Edwin Lawson, Professor Aaron Demsky, Boris Feldblyum, Andrea Brill, and Warren Blatt, plus personal communications with several of these persons.