Dictionary of Jewish Surnames
The Canadian Jewish News has an article about Alexander Beider’s revised edition of his book A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire. Beider has also published other volumes on surnames from Poland and Galicia.
Surnames derived from place-names are also common. The name Bobrushkin is linked to the town of Bobrujsk; Drubicher is linked to Drubich; Gordon to Grodno; Mogilevich to Mogilev; Polyakov to Polyak; Slobodkin to Slobodka; and Usyshkin to the Usyskin River. Many surnames are unique to a particular town or region but may be difficult or impossible to find on a map. (For assistance, see the book Where Once We Walked, the award-winning shtetl locator by Gary Mokotoff and Sallyann Sack.
When surnames became mandatory, many Jews took names based on personal characteristics (such as Langbart, meaning “long beard”) or pleasant associations (Feldblum, Goldberg, Rosenstein, Silverman). A small but well-documented subcategory of “ridiculous” surnames includes such monickers as Brodavka (wart) and Dolgoshiya (long-necked). One pictures disdainful bureaucrats holding their noses as they assign laughable and even disrespectful last names to the poor Jewish applicants summoned to appear before them.
A statistician at heart, Beider throws in statistical charts whenever possible, such as his percentage tables of the most common Jewish surnames in the various Russian provinces. Based on 1912 data, the most common names in Vitebsk region were: Kagan, Levin, Gurevich, Ginzburg, Ioffe, Rabinovich, Sverdlov, Rapoport, Shapiro and Livshits. The list for Grodno shows Kaplan, Levin, Lev, Epshtejn, Kagan, Goldberg, Fridman, Shapiro, Rabinovich and Vajnshtejn.