According to JewFAQ, you cannot tell whether someone is Jewish by his or her last name because there are plenty of individuals with “Jewish-sounding” names that are not Jewish, like their example of Bruce Springsteen. Furthermore, there are many names that are assumed to be Jewish that are actually German, leaving many Americans to think if you’re Jewish, you’re automatically German.
I, for one, am not German. My dad’s family came from Russia. But whether you have a Jewish-sounding last name or not, we can all agree that when people hear last names with endings like “-stein” or “-burg,” they’re assuming you are Jewish.
Most of us living in the good old United States would agreed upon that Gentiles think they set the stage for the “normal” name with their Smiths and Jones and what have you. But in another country or place, Smith might seem odd and Greenberg might seem just right. Suddenly Mr. Jones might feel a little singled out, eh?
Taking Pride In Your Heritage
In my opinion, if you are the owner of a Jewish-sounding name, you should wear that last name with pride. Many people change their last name in an attempt to not sound Jewish, like Ralph Lauren, who is actually Ralph Lifshitz (no relation, sadly, so I don’t have a lick of his money) and Woody Allen, who is actually Allen Konigsberg. This may be done for simplification; admittedly, not many people spell Lifshitz correctly. But for others, it may be an attempt to conceal their Jewish identity. Doing this, however, is shameful if you ask me. Why should one change his or her name in order to simply sound like everyone else?
In fact, when I started the divorce process, it was a Jewish friend of mine who said I should keep my married name, which is of Latino heritage, because it sounds nicer. While I will admit Lifshitz is not a melodic last name, it’s unique, strong and memorable. Why should I feel shame in that? Just because the name embraces that four letter s-h-i-t word? It’s not like I am Lif-feces. Even still, why do I need to parade around as someone I am not? I already get questioned thanks to my pale skin and hair, courtesy of my mom’s Irish and Scottish heritage. Personally, I enjoy that my Jewish heritage and culture are reflected in my last name.
Reasons To Love Your Jewish Name
A Jewish last name isn’t just something you should be proud of; it can also be something to celebrate! Here are five reasons to embrace the “-burg,” “-stein” or “-shitz” in you:
- Why should your name reflect who everyone else is? You’re only you – no one else. Embrace where and who you come from.
- When we make something easier to spell or say like a last name, we only make the population less intelligent. Learning how to read and pronounce other words is a boost in vocabulary and IQ! Enjoy your complicated Jewish last name.
- You are owning your family heritage and taking pride in being a part of the Jewish community. Don’t forget that.
- It’s awesome being unique. With a name like mine, no one forgets me. What if I had been born Jennifer Smith?
- Even if you have the most common Jewish name ever, you can walk around wondering if a few of your Jewish friends are your cousins! That would be interesting. (Just don’t make out with anyone before checking if you’re relatives.)
Do you have a Jewish last name? Forget about the mispronunciations and the assumptions about your background and remember just how awesome it is to be a part of this special community.
I’m proud of my married name, Goldberg, and my married name, Levine! Great article~
Sorry–my maiden name was Goldberg…duh!
I’m sorry that my father changed my family name from Mechelevich to Levit. It’s such a nondescript handle that doesn’t show that my family is from Russia. On the other hand, my first name, Hiram, is almost unique. People never forget it and while it made me sweat as a kid, I’m proud of it now. Incidentally, people think it’s Jewish. It’s not. It’s Masonic.
To JDate: “Burg” is not Jewish. “Berg” is Jewish.
May the Schwartz be with you!
In Masonry the name Hiram refers to two men, Hiram, King of Tyre who supported King Solomon in the building of the temple. The master craftsman was Hiram as well. Upon his death he was buried in the temple according to the Jewish law at the time. So I would think the name Hiram has some Hebrew connotation.