Query: The name "ha-Levy"; and naming a son after his deceased father

Dana Hollander's picture

I am passing along a query on behalf of a friend who is researching the history of Jews in a town in Baden (Germany).

They have come across the following report:  "Salomon Levy starb vor der Geburt seines jüngsten Sohnes am 22. November 1870. ... Der Knabe erhielt den Vornamen seines Vaters: Salomon ha-Levy."  Translation:  “Salomon Levy died before the birth of his youngest son on November 22, 1870 . . . . The boy received the first name of his father:  Salomon ha-Levy.”

My friend believes that in the case of Salomon Levy, Levy would have been a surname, citing the circumstance that German Jews received surnames as of 1810.  My friend is wondering:  what is the significance of the “ha-“ being added to the name Levy?   Why did the son receive “ha-Levy” instead of “Levy” as a surname?  Is there a general difference between “Levy” and “ha-Levy” as a surname?  Is there a reason why the article “ha-“ would have been added to the surname in order to commemorate the father?

Thank you,

Dana Hollander (McMaster University)


Categories: Query

Hello, the answer is that the younger generations have GERMAN names, whereas the grandfather's name only LOOKS German. But actually it is a German TRANSCRIPTION of the HEBREW name. You may say I am wrong because then why does it say "Salomon ha-Levy" and not f.ex. "Schelomoh ha-Levy". The answer to THAT is that there is a convention (which exists in English and other languages too) of rendering Jewish names in their various local Christian forms when transcribing Hebrew names, e.g. writing Moses ben Joshua instead of Mosheh ben Yehoshua. I actually tend to follow this convention myself in my writings. This is of course a special case of a more general issue that is very current just now, namely, whether to translate the names of Christians too from one Christian language to another or not. In the 1960s in Poland I knew the first US President as JERZY WASZYNGTON, though names of living Americans were not Polonized anymore. Currently I think everywhere the names of popes are translated, the names of non-royalty never are, the names of current non-UK royalty are not (so eg in English the Dutch king is called Willem-Alexander even though earlier Dutch kings do get their names translated), the names of UK royals seem to still get translated, so Charles III in Poland is Karol III, but the trend is clear: the tendency is not to translate. but at the time the rules were to translate first names of Jews into whatever Christian language. So in short Salomon ha-Levy is rendering a Hebrew name in German, whereas Salomon Levy is a German name.