German-Jewish Naming Practices: The Kaufmann Name and other Family Name
By Herbert Kaufmann (husband of Nancy a Langermann descendant)
Kaufmann means merchant and is a common name in Germany. The ancestor who chose that name, my greatX3 grandfather was not a merchant, however. He was a butcher. Why did he choose to be named Kaufmann and not Metzger or Fleischmann, both of which mean butcher?
One can never know for certain why any one does anything, but I have been learning about German-Jewish naming and think I can explain it. I am quite sure I do know why his son, my greatX2 grandfather, came to have the unusual name of Kaufmann Kaufmann.
First, a general caveat. Germany, as a country with uniform laws, did not exist until 1871. Before then there were over 50 kingdoms, principalities, dukedoms, free cities and so forth and their laws and customs regarding naming and everything else varied considerably. So some of what follows is not universally true. However, by the 17th century most German Christians used family names. The names were not always permanent. For instance, the Gutenberg family (of movable type fame) had name changes a few times with the names relating to the houses they inhabited. Names in general were malleable and not just the spelling.
Most Jewish families did not adopt surnames because they weren’t really needed. The Jewish population in 18th century Germany was less than 1% and Jews lived in small communities because most towns would not allow many Jewish families to settle in them. One’s given name was followed by the father’s name, or sometimes the mother’s, and that was identification enough. Old Testament names and their derivatives were used almost exclusively until the second quarter of the 19th century when German names began to appear. So duplication was common. If, for instance, there were too many Abraham Moseses in a community they might be further identified by where their houses were (e.g. Ambach=by the brook or Amberg=on the hill) or by the town of previous residence. Some Jews, especially in Austria, adopted family names before the first decade of the 19th century. Then, for reasons of identification on taxation rolls, census and military conscription, everyone had to have a surname.
The names Jews chose or were assigned fell into several categories. The commonest names were place names. The place was not the place where that person resided at the time of the choice because if everyone did that all the Jews in town would have the same name. Usually it was a place of previous residence but there are inexplicable anomalies; there never were enough Jews in Oppenheim to account for all the Oppenheimers. Why so many families chose that name is unclear. And most of the Berliners used that name for "sound alike" reasons which will be mentioned below.
The "place of residence" might be a house, not a town or geographic location. The most famous is Rothschild for the red shield over the door but there is also Schwarzschild, black shield, or Hochschild, high shield.
A second large category were those who simply took their patronymics and adopted those for the family names. Hence, all the Solomons, Abrahams, Moseses and so on.
Occupations, such as Schneider (tailor), Zimmermann (carpenter), Schreiber (scribe), Wechsler (money changer), make up a large group of names that were chosen. Some, such as Wechsler or Schulman are almost always "Jewish names" because few Christians would have that occupation but for most occupational names there is no ethnic identification.
Some names were based on physical characteristics such as hair color or stature. Thus, Roth=red, Weiss=white, Barth=beard, Kraus=curly, Lang=tall, Kurz,Klein=short,small, Grossmann=fatman or bigman and so on.
For some reason, plants were frequently chosen, perhaps because of the proximity of the plant or tree to the house of the person being named. So there are lots of Blum/Bloom names. The Rosen names sometimes honored the mother since Rosa was a common name but were also in the plant category. And there are all the –baum names (for trees).
Others used names for which they thought they had an historic connection. Cohen and Katz for priestly descent, Levi, Levy and its derivatives for tribal descent. Then, slightly further removed from the tribal names, are names that come from the German word that translates the Hebrew word for the animal that symbolized the biblical tribe or person. For instance, the lion is the symbol for Judah. Loewe (actually Lowe with an umlaut over the o) is the German word for lion. Loev, Loew and Loeb are archaic German forms of Loewe. So, all the Loebs, Loewes, Leons, Leupolds, Leopolds and so on are germanifications of Judah. Likewise, Benjamin’s symbol is the wolf which explains all the Jewish Wolfs, Woolfes, Wolfsons and suchlike. Hirsch is German for deer which is Naftali’s symbol.
Finally, there are the nicknames, terms of affection and sound-alikes. This last merges with all the others. For instance, many Jews with Eisen (iron) in their names chose them because the patronymic was Isaac or Israel. Hirsch is linked to Herz and Herzberg and Herzfeld and even Heinemann and Heymann occur in the same family.
The nickname is relevant to the Kaufmann name in the following way. The Hebrew for Jacob is Yaakov. Just as Hans is a nickname for Johann, Kov is a nickname for Yaakov. With a hard V and a long O, that would be pronounced Koff or Kauf. The –mann was often added to short names and so a lot of persons who chose to be Kaufmanns were not merchants but were choosing to be "Jakes" when they adopted that surname.
Usually Jews selected their children’s given names in memory of a deceased ancestor. I find no prior Jacob in the family tree but the first recorded ancestor (born c1665) is Kauffmann Abraham, the great grandfather of Abraham Solomon (born 1760), my greatX3 grandfather, who adopted the surname Kaufmann. That may be why he chose the family name of Kaufmann rather than Metzger or Fleischmann. Of course, he might have chosen it because he may have owned a butcher shop which would have made him a merchant and, hence, a Kaufmann. But before he chose the surname he named his sixth son (born 1804) Kaufmann with the patronymic, of course, Abraham. (He had already used up Aron, Mendel, Moyses, Levi and Isaak for boys and Gudula for a daughter and was married to his third wife, Gudula Marx, also recorded as Judith Marcus.)
Kaufmann Abraham might have been named for his greatX2 grandfather, the earliest recorded ancestor mentioned above. At any rate, when the surname of Kaufmann was adopted in 1808, Kaufmann Abraham became Kaufmann Kaufmann. In any event, that is how it seems to me that it must have happened. What I really do not understand is why Kaufmann Kaufmann named his son (born 1831) Jacob Kaufmann Kaufmann, since in this case the "Kaufmann" represents "Jacob". So he was really Jacob Jacob Jacob. Seems odd, to say the least but he may have been employing the older Jewish custom of using the patronym after the given name and then the new German surname as sort of an afterthought. I will never know. Jacob’s son was Herbert Moses Kaufmann (born1870), my grandfather.
Our other family names fall into the patterns described above. My paternal grandparents were Herbert Moses Kaufmann and Lillie Hagedorn Kaufmann. Hagedorn, as noted above, means hawthorn, a plant. Other than our Hagedorn family, all other Hagedorns whom I have met in person or on the internet are Christian so Hagedorn was an unusual choice for a Jewish family.
My father, Herbert Jacob Kaufmann (born 1904) was initially named Jacob Hagedorn Kaufmann. The story goes that some one said to his mother, "Lillie, they’re going to call him Jakey". That was clearly "too Jewish" so, a few months after he was born, the name was changed. When I was born (in 1933) I was supposed to have been named Michael. As my mother told the story, my father looked so sad that I was named Herbert Jacob too. I never liked the name Herbert so when our son was born, he was spared it and named John English Kaufmann. But his son is named Michael, so now we have Michael Min-liang Kaufmann and Peter Gabriel Kaufmann Kirkpatrick, two archangels and a saint, as guardians of our name.
Kaufmann is pronounced "kowfmon" in German with the emphasis on the first syllable. I am told that during the First World War, with so much anti-German feeling in America, Grandpa decided it was prudent to pronounce the name "caughmin" as do most people here. We have always said caughmin in my lifetime but I answer to both and more.
My maternal grandfather was Lester Morris Newburger. His father was Morris Newburger, born Moritz Neuburger. His family lived in Haigerloch and must have moved there from Neuburg,of which there are at least three in Germany. The name translates as Newbury or Newcastle or Newtown. His wife was Emanuella (Ella) Levy Newburger. So the family has a place name, a tribal name, a plant name and a nickname-sound alike name-occupational name; almost the whole spectrum. And further back there are animal names – Loeb (lion/Judah) and Herzberg (deer/Naftali) and one of affection – Lieberman (beloved).
I would like to mention two other things having to do with naming. Sometimes a local official chose to assign an unpleasant name. Some people were named Rindkopf (cow's head) or Faulpelz (putrid or lazy hide) or worse because the official felt like playing a joke or didn’t like the person. Funny and "bad" names were not exclusively Jewish. I knew a German doctor who had left Germany in the 1930s. He left because he was a political liberal. He was Christian and his name was Heinz Magendanz (stomach dance), a very unusual and peculiar name. He came to Boston to follow his Jewish German Professor, Siegfried Thannhauser, about as German a name as you can get.
There is a generally held belief that immigration officers in America arbitrarily assigned names to immigrants. Apparently that is not so. They might have changed spellings to make them more like the English manner of spelling or pronouncing or sometimes shortened them but they did not create totally new names.
Finally, all of this has made me much more tolerant of name changes in America. Names in Germany were not engraved in stone. They varied for lots of reasons, and, just as Hebrew names were germanified, it is quite in keeping to choose new forms that "sound more American" even though what sounds American today is pretty broad.