24 February 2009

New edition: Jewish Surnames of the Russian Empire

A large volume that "lives" on the shelf above my desk is Alexander Beider's Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire (1993, Avotaynu). Each time I look up a name, I mark it, and most pages are covered in highlights and notes.

Following four years of work by Beider, an updated volume has just been published by Avotaynu, which has brought out all of Beider's books, including surnames in Poland, Galicia and elsewhere, as well as a tome on Ashkenazi given names.

The new edition is hefty at 1,000 pages - 50% more than the 1993 edition - and offers 74,000 surname entries - the 1993 book contained some 50,000.

Bill Gladstone reviewed the book for the Canadian Jewish News:
Beider considered the revision necessary because of the explosion of new sources and knowledge that has occurred over the last 15 years due to the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the rise of the Internet, and the publication of numerous related new works. He expanded the work’s geographical range, altered hundreds of entries and added many new cross-references.

The Moscow-born statistician, linguist and onomastician, who has lived in Paris since 1990, is credited with almost single-handedly revolutionizing the field of Jewish onomastics. Before Beider, most researchers rehashed names and ideas from the published literature with little scientific method and little regard to where the names occurred geographically. One of Beider’s central methodological principles was to link surnames to the geographical regions in which they originated, and he was the first to do an inductive survey of surnames based on primary sources such as old voters’ lists, censuses, civil records and other archival material.

See a sample page of the new edition here, and the corresponding page in the 1993 edition here. For a better idea of the broad scope of Beider's book, view the table of contents here.

A 200-page intro section offers information on how family names were acquired. Beider covers the history of Eastern European Jewish names, types, linguistics. patterns of adoptions, names used by both Jews and non-Jews.

An accompanying softcover volume provides the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex listing of the surnames. The D-M Soundex was especially formulated to provide a more accurate system for Eastern European names.

The dictionary section references other Beider works to see how a surname migrated both to and from the Russian Empire.

For more information, click Avotaynu. For both books (large hardcover and accompanying softcover), the price is $118.

Read Gladstone's complete review in the Canadian Jewish News.

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