Sunday, December 17, 2006

What's In A Name?

According to Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, the Museum Director of Kehila Kedosha Janina: from a lecture presented on August 15, 2006 at the International Jewish Genealogical Conference (for an explanation of the Bellel name, look towards the end of this posting. Marcia feel the Bellels may have a connection to Corfu which is closer to Italy)
"While the terms “Ashkenazim” and “Sephardim” are geographical terms designating Jews whose ancestry originated in “German Lands” or Spain, the term “Romaniote” is an historical term, denoting Jews who date their ancestry back to the Roman Empire. When, in the early 4th century, Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to a city on the Bosphorus, named Byzantion, renaming it after himself [Constantinopolis, the City of Constantine], Jews were citizens of the Roman Empire and, in their dialect, denoted themselves as such: Romaniotes-citizens of Roman. The term has come to mean “Hellenized” Jews, Greek-speaking Jews, who like Jews throughout history, living in most circumstances as small minorities surrounded by non-Jewish majorities, have absorbed many of the attributes, customs, traditions and, certainly, language of the surrounding non-Jewish majority, in this case, the Greek world of their time, whether it be pagan or Christian.
Certainly, their form of naming reflected this influence. One of the oldest recorded Greek-Jewish names, Moskos, is found on a tombstone dating back to Hellenistic period. The adding of “os” at the end of the name [Mordos, Molhos, etc] would, in essence, Hellenize the name. While, as Jews have done throughout the millennia, a child would be named with a given first name, followed by “ben” or “bat” to denote the paternity of the child, with the passage of time and the acquisition of surnames, many of these names, both given and surnames, would become Hellenized. Sometimes the name would be the translation of the Hebrew into Greek, as in the case of “Eftihia” the literal translation of Mazaltov [good luck] or Sterina for Esther.
For years, I have been researching the naming practices of the Jews of Ioannina, a typical Romaniote Jewish community located in the northwest of Greece near the Albanian border, a community that, until recently, had lived in comparative isolation and had continued to preserve its age-old traditions. The destruction of the community during the Holocaust has changed this but, fortunately, a sister community had been established in New York in the early part of the 20th century and the synagogue, Kehila Kedosha Janina, still stands. The museum, of which I am the Director, is located inside the synagogue, and we have continued to preserve the traditions and culture of the Romaniote Jews of Ioannina and, recently, expanded our research to assure that information will be available for subsequent generations.
In many ways, the naming practices of the Jews of Ioannina offer valuable insights into this community and, by extension, valuable aids in genealogical research, not only for Romaniote Jews, but all Jews. As the oldest European Diasporic Jewish community [Romaniote Jews have lived on what is now Greek soil for over 2,300 years] we can safely say that these Jews set the precedent, in many ways, for subsequent Jewish naming. Surnames, like their Ashkenazi counterparts, would begin to be acquired in the 17th century and, as in the case with Ashkenazim, was due to requirements of municipalities within which they were residing, in the case of Romaniotes, the then Ottoman Turkish Empire.  Previous to the 17th century, without surnames for much of their existence, only their given names [and that of their father] were used. Even today, most Romaniote surnames are based on male Biblical first names: Solomon, Samuel, Avraam, Isaak, Barouch, etc. Needless to say, there would be much duplication. .......... In Ioannina, because of the repetition of names, “nicknames” paratsouklia, many of them descriptive [blue-eyed (Galanos), red-hair (Kokkinos), small nose (Koutsomitis), etc] became surnames. Other descriptive characteristics, also common in other non-Romaniote communities, were occupational names. In Ioannina, of course, these names would reflect local occupations and would appear in Greek: Battinos [one who stuffs-as in a quilt], Koffinas [little basket-the patriarch probably engaged in making baskets], Bakaras (from Greek word for “grocer”), Dragoumanos (from “dragoman”- translator) and Lagaris (“polisher of silver” in Greek), to name a few.
As among others, both Jews and non-Jews, locations often were transformed into surnames, usually denoting the origin of the original bearer of that name. In Ioannina, some examples of these surnames were: Volos [a city in eastern Greece], Kastorianos (from Kastoria, city in northern Greece), or Vrachoritis (someone who came from Agrinion, town in western Greece formerly known as Vrachora). Sometime the area was far away, such as “Kabylia”, a region in North Africa, which gave rise to the family name of Kabilis, or close by, as in a neighborhood in Ioannina called Kamaras, which was the source of the family name of Kamaras. Sometimes, the surname reflected one who did business in a certain city, and the Greek name of Politis, used by both Jews and Greek Christians, referred to someone who did business in “the City”, i poli, Constantinopolis. There were even instances where a mere visit to another location resulted in a nickname, which became a surname, such as in the instance of Katsanos, which became the family name of man who had visited the village of Katsanochoria. A not-uncommon surname among Greek [and other Sephardic Jews] was Askenazi denoting a Jew of German decent. This surname appears in many different forms in the Ioannina municipal archives.
Sometimes the nickname reflected a specific distinction, such as in the case of Platonas, a surname given to man who ran a store under the plane tree [platonas] in the center of the city. Sometimes it reflected the patriarch’s religious function in the community, as in the case of Samas, the shamas. Since in Greek there is no ‘h’ it was pronounced “samas”. Where descendents of the “samas” may no longer help in the synagogue, they would continue to carry a surname that reflected that background, much in the same way as Levis and Koens still do.
Sometimes the surname reflected a physical characteristic, not always complimentary, such as Fridis, given to a man with bushy eyebrows, or Golios, which in Greek was “a bird without wings” and was used to describe, in a comical way, a man without hair. In other instances, the surname would reflect an aspect of the person’s personality, again, often uncomplimentary. ...............An interesting change that took place in Greece was with the name “Bellelis” from the Italian “Bella” for beautiful. Sine the letter that looks like the Latin “B”, in Greek, the “beta” is actually pronounced like the letter “v”, the name became “Velleli” but those Jews who immigrated to Israel or the United States kept the Italian pronunciation of Belleli.

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