Naming conventions and language

Started by George J. Homs on Tuesday, January 11, 2011
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1/11/2011 at 11:28 AM

Apologies if this has been covered before.
Through my wife's genealogy, I arrive through straight blood lines to Portuguese, English and French 'royalty'. It has been quite easy to establish her direct blood lines.
However, I do notice that we have - on geni - an enormous amount of duplicates and merge questions related to the way ancestors are named, purely because of language conventions.
For instance, some ancestor can be called "Robert", but he could also be called "Rhuodobertus" (or a few other variants).
My personal opinion is that we need to try to stick to the most original naming convention.
Is there any ongoing effort within the geni community to achieve that?
Best regards,

1/11/2011 at 12:02 PM

Thanks Bjørn!

1/11/2011 at 12:04 PM


We'd welcome a "naming conventions" on French and Portugese Royalty for everyone to follow.

The idea of the project Bjorn pointed to is for the community to arrive at consensus, request additional fields from Geni, come up with short guides to Naming Conventions by language / country / historical period, and publish that to the Geni Community Wiki.

All are welcome to join in, there's A LOT of work to do.

1/11/2011 at 5:13 PM

Erica Howton I joined a couple of days ago. One thing I run into is the difference between the name in Polish records and the name the person went by in the U.S. For example my grandfather Harry Frankel Harry Frankel whose Polish records give his name as Eliasz Gersz, which of course others would transcribe as Elias Hirsch! And of course there's the fascinating topic of kinu'im or double names in Jewish names of that period so my ggg grandfather Judah Leib Margolis is a great example. For months I pour through Polish records (transcribed) noticing a pattern of the same double names and lo and behold, it's very simple. Certain combination of Hebrew + Yiddish (usually) names went together. The Tribe of Judah has the lion as a symbol, hence "Leib". And you might find Judah or Leib or both in the records.

I wondered why my brother-in-law's father was named "Achille" and found out that among the Jews of Alsace-Lorraine, this was the secular version of "Asher," like the Yiddish "Anshel". There's a wonderful method to the madness which others can articulate much better than I can. But once you unlock the system, it all makes sense and helps understand the naming conventions and helps doing genealogical research.

1/11/2011 at 5:16 PM

Now that's very interesting. Could you write up a little section on this naming practice? I'll make a section called "Jewish Patterns" or something like that.

1/11/2011 at 5:23 PM

Erica Howton - I'll be glad to help someone write it. We have so many people who are real experts in European Jewish names. But if no one else volunteers to take the lead, I'll use some of the great name guides I downloaded and write a summary of what I have learned. I can provide links to the documents that enlightened me, many of which are on

with regards to those Jewish naming patterns, one must be VERY careful when making assumptions based on them, especially when carried over into non-Jewish languages. Yes "Yehuda Leib" is a very common name-pair, but there is NOT even a low level of certainty that this person will be called, Leo, Leon or Leonard.

In fact even if you find a double-name (e.g. Tzvi-Hersch (both meaning deer) Aryeh Leib (lion again), Naftali-Tzvi (deer being the icon of Tribe Naphtali .), or any other such), and you find a similar Tzvi OR Hersch in the records, then you can neither assume it was the same person, or NOT assume. In general, people who had a double name, especially Torah scholars, made sure to ALWAYS use the double-name. This is rather unlike English "middle-names". But that's "in general", they just as well might BE the same.

Also, with American Jews, there is a more "recent" (~100 years), that the "inside", i.e. Jewish name, was nothing like the "outside" secular name. In my father's family they "got clever", and use the same initials for both.

1/12/2011 at 11:22 AM

Hi Shmuel - I agree with you. People choose their Americanized names often arbitrarily. Bodana - Hattie is an example. Or Bezalel - Charles.

I was more making the point that understanding name pairs helps when looking at early 19th century Polish records. So if in a small town I see records for Judah Lejb, and Lejb, married to Badana daughter of Judah, I give it more weight, knowing about double names.

Given the small number of names and the repetition of names, especially among families, one has to be very careful about assumptions. In my family, when my 4th great grandmother died, all the cousins named their their daughters after her, and this was in a small town. And they might be born within weeks of one another. Same for my other relatives, so it's easy to mix up all the Ashers, Zvi Hirschs, Badanas, etc.

I think you and I ought to start that discussion about these types of names, if it doesn't already exist.

1/12/2011 at 11:24 AM

Thanks Shmuel, and all others,
This is obviously an issue in every language.
The reason why I triggered the discussion, is because I think we do need to stick to the most original naming as possible.
Obviously, this is very tricky when considering non-Roman writing like Hebrew, Cyrillic, Chinese...
In the case of Roman-like writing... For instance, I would prefer "Rey de España" over "King of Spain". Currently, because of the lack of convention, we're seeing forefathers with sixty fathers and mothers (or more). I suspect that this is a matter for the curators in geni to handle. However, my suggestion is to stick as much as possible to the most authentic language as possible.
Perhaps geni does need an extra field where alternative languages or spellings are catered for.

1/12/2011 at 11:51 AM

George - it's not as straight forward as one would like. What name do I choose for my great grandfather whose name was written in Yiddish for the first twenty years of his life, whose official records are in Polish with Polish spelling conventions - Eliasz Gersz in transcription, or the name he went by for the last 50 years of his life in the U.S (Harry)? Same issue for my husband's great grandfather. I write his name Chaim Alter, the Argentine relatives write it Jaim Alter, but he was a Yiddish speaking Southern Ukrainian whose father or grandfather had been moved to Southern Ukraine from Lithuania by the Czar, so his Yiddish was Lithuanian influenced.

that IS the naming convention in the historical parts of the tree, BUT... as most people wouldn't be familiar with the original name form, we try and use BOTH.

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