18 October 2006

An Italian question

Hepzibah asks:

Our family name is Cologna from the Veneto section of Italy.
We surmised that our ancestors came from Cologne, Germany sometime in the Middle Ages. We are Catholic, but my first clue that we may have been Conversos was when I happened upon Abraham de Cologna - the Italian representative to Napolean's court.

Also, on the JewishGen website, Cologna is listed as a Jewish name. No one else in my family is interested in pursuing this line - but if you have any additional information on Italian Jews with the name Cologna, I would be very interested.

Hi, Hepzibah.

Jewish family names may be classified in several categories: occupations, geographical origin, characteristics, names of animals or plants, religious terms and the like.

Sephardic families used distinctive surnames as early as the year 1000 as documented in Spanish archival materials. I have personally seen an actual document dated 1204.

As Jewish families moved from community to community – sometimes forced, sometimes voluntarily – their names also changed. Sometimes, they merely translated the original name into the languages of their new countries: One Spanish family named Lopez became Wolf in Amsterdam and Farkas in Hungary.

Cologna might indicate an origin in Cologne, Germany, and you indicate that this may possibly be your family’s origin, although you do know they are from the Veneto region of Italy. Venice was home to Jews from around the world, from Eastern Europe to Asia to North Africa.

Nardo Bonomi of Italy is working on indexing the Italian Jewish archives.

I found the following names from 17th-19th century documents of the Jews of Venice, in the Veneto region: Cologna, Colognia, Colongia, Colonia, da Colognia, Da Colonia

For more information on the Italian Jewish names listed and Jewish resources in Italy, click here or e-mail.

And for more from the online Jewish Encyclopedia on Abraham de Cologna:

ABRAHAM (VITA) DE COLOGNA: An Italian rabbi, orator, and political leader; born at Mantua, 1755; died at Triest, 1832. While holding the post of rabbi of his native city he was elected a member of the Parliament of the Napoleonic kingdom of Italy, and in 1806 a deputy to the assembly of notables in Paris. Upon the formation of the Sanhedrin in 1807 he was appointed vice-chairman, and in 1808 a member of the French Central Consistory; later also of the Consistory of Turin. Abraham exhibited all the characteristics of men of transition periods: a strong desire for reform, and an indefinite conception of the aims and means necessary to realize that desire. He left a volume of sermons and apologetic essays.
Abraham de Cologna. Bibliography: Kahn, Archives IsraƩlites, 1840, p. 32.

If you go to the Jewish Encyclopedia link above, there's even a nice picture of Abraham. Does he look like anyone in your family?

The Web site offers the complete contents of the 12-volume Jewish Encyclopedia, originally published 1901-1906, now in public domain. It contains more than 15,000 articles and illustrations.

The online version contains the unedited contents of the original century-old encyclopedia. Obviously, you won't find anything about modern Jewish history such as the State of Israel or the Holocaust, but the articles provide much interesting information.

Happy hunting!

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