Family Names

1. I would like to know the meaning of my family name. What should I do?

Please fill in a SEARCH ORDER FORM online, and send it to us by clicking on the Submit button. You may also carry out a search while visiting the study areas in the museum, during regular opening hours.

2. What kind of information does the family names database include?

The Memi De-Shalit Database of Jewish Family Names at Beth Hatefutsoth, now including almost 20,000 entries and growing, contains information (in English) on the origin and meaning of family names used by Jewish families living in the Diaspora. A typical entry describes the etymology of the name and its various variants, the area of dispersion since its earliest known occurrence, and furnishes examples of Jewish individuals who bear that specific family name.

3. In what language do I need fill out the search order?

Your contact details should be filled out in English if you reside outside Israel. Residents of Israel may fill their contact details in Hebrew. However, family names you are searching for must be filled out in Latin characters only. The database contains information in English and for carrying out an effective search, it is imperative to submit the family names you are searching in Latin characters only.

4. How do I know my search order has been received?

After clicking on the Submit button please wait a few seconds while your order is being processed, until you see a message on your screen. Within minutes, an automatic confirmation will be delivered to the mail address you registered in your search order form.

5. When can I expect an answer?

The search results of the Jewish Family Names database will be sent to the e-mail address you filled out in the search order form within a few days, but not longer than 14 business days of receipt of your request.

6. I found my family name in the database. Does it prove that I am Jewish?

No. There are many surnames used by Jews and non-Jews alike.

7. I did not find my family name database. Does it prove that I am not Jewish?

No. The Jewish Family Names database contains about 20,000 entries with many others being added constantly. Click here for a general introduction about Jewish family names.

8. Can you tell me to which tribe my family belongs or whether we are Cohanim?

No. For these questions, please seek the advice of a rabbi. However, there are some family names - Cohen, Levy, Katz, Segal and others - that according to the Jewish tradition designate descendants of Cohanim or Levi'im.

9. I would like to change my family name to a Hebrew one. Can you advise me which name to adopt?

We can provide you with a meaning of your surname, but choosing a Hebrew surname should be your decision. There are no rules for choosing a Hebrew surname: some select a Hebrew name whose sound or spelling is close to the former family name while others translate the meaning of their surname, each according to his/her own preferences.

10. How do I convert a Hebrew date to a date in the general calendar (Gregorian calendar)?

Visit JOS Calendar Conversion:

11. What is the difference between "genealogy" and "family names", and are they linked?

The Douglas E. Goldman Jewish Genealogy database and the Memi De Shalit Jewish Family Names database are two distinct collections, each containing information of a different type. The genealogy database contains a collection of family trees built and submitted by Jewish families from Israel and the Diaspora. The database of Jewish family names is based on research done by Beth Hatefutsoth and provides explanations in English about the origin and the meaning of Jewish family names. At this stage, the two databases are not integrated: it is possible that a family name will appear in the Jewish family names database but not in the genealogy database and vice versa. For that reason we recommend ordering searches of both databases.