Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman
April 2004

Names and their Importance Part II

Linguistic Proofs

There is no irrefutable scientific experiment based proof for linguistic theories.  Evidence for the development of language is gathered from old writings, differences and similarities among languages, language in isolated groups, understandings of the physiology of making phonemes, and understanding of history, sociology, and psychology.  A correct hypothesis can not be proved; only incorrect hypotheses can be disproved.  Since audio recordings from ancient times do not exist we can only speculate on how sounds have evolved.  Nothing stated in my research or anyone else’s research is certain.  I present the best evidence and make my analysis, but no one knows when new evidence will show errors in my work. Language is the result of meaning attached to sounds and writing.  I have learned from the writing of Dr. John Gray[1] the words one person says have different meanings in the head of the listener.  He talks about the gender differences in language, but the implications on linguistic research is that gesture, verbiage,  and tone of voice are important for the meaning and interpretations of conversations.  Written words give the researcher only a small percentage of the information a language researcher would want.

In the study of linguistics the sounds of some phonemes and their pronunciation can be guessed from how words rhyme in poetry.

Why Study Given Names?

Given names are the personal names given by one’s parents.  Personal names have existed from the time of the very first man, Adam.  Parents choose names for personal or family reasons.  They are more limiting than family or last names.  Parents choose names that sound “nice,” honor one’s ancestors, or have a quality that the parents would like to have emulated.  Family names have more diverse sources than personal names.  In an effort to make their choice special, parents choose unusual spellings or search sources such as the Tanakh to find inspiration.  Meaning for personal names comes from the etymology of the root words and from how people use the names.

Many family names have different meaning for Jews and non-Jews.   For example Katz for German speakers means cat. For Jews Katz is an acronym for kohen tzedek.  Kessler as a German name is someone who make kettles or a coppersmith.  As a Jewish name it is a patronymic from the Hebrew Yekutiel.   Kessel was a nickname for Yekutiel; hence Kessler means, “descendent of Kessel.”  The English name, Cooper comes from the maker or seller of barrels, wine casks, or tubs. Cooperman is the helper or servant of the master cooper.  For Jews and Germans Cooper and Copperman derive from Kupfer (“copper”) meaning coppersmith. Wahl in German and Yiddish names means choice or election while in Polish it means ox.

Given names are easier to trace their sources than family names.  The vast majority of Hebrew names have origins in the Tanakh.  Other names such as Moses, Alexander, and Esther. come from the surrounding cultures.  Some names such as Akiva, Rabba, and Abba come from Aramaic and are mentioned in the Talmud.  Modern Israeli names come from contemporary Hebrew words and their derivatives i.e. nicknames, pet names and diminutives of previous names.  For example  Joe, Yossi, or Joey come from Yoseph and Sam, Sammy, Shmuli, Shimu, and Shep come from Shmu’ el.

Clan names and family names are mentioned in the Tanakh.  Examples are each of the twelve tribes, ‘Ish Yemini, and Beit Daveed. In the Talmud rabbis were known as X ben Y (ex. Rabbi bar Pappa,  Rabbi ‘Eliezer ben Horkinus,  Rabbi Shimon ben Nataniel.),  nicknames (ex. Shimon ha-Tzadik,  Yosi ha-Kohen, or place names (ex. Antigonos of Socho, Rabbi Halafta of Dosa,Hereditary family names were enacted by law over long period of time.  In the tenth century some families started to take names. It was not until January 1, 1935 that a Turkish law went into effect making the use of family names compulsory.  In Western Europe laws were passed in the 18th and early 19th century to require the use of family names. In 1787 Emperor Joseph II issued an edict ordering the Jews of Galicia and Bucovina to adopt family names. July 20, 1908 Napoleon decreed that all Jews in his empire were required to have family names. In 1845 Russian Jews were finally required to take permanent family names even though the process began in 1821.

Names are the labels for people.  They are important to make each one of unique and a part of society.  Names help us keep track of each other.

[1] See his Mars/Venus books.  Men are from Mars; women are from Venus and others.

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit our web site to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at:

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 ©2004 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised May 2, 2004