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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

A Jewish Surname between Family Tradition and Scholarly Analysis

D Ben-Amos
University of Pennsylvania, United States

The social history of the Jewish people in modern times is documented in the many surnames that Jews bore. These names and their permutations reflect the vicissitudes in crossing linguistic and cultural boundaries in pursuit of new identities. In this paper, I explore my father’s original last name Kastrol, which he took with him in the 1920s from Belarus when he immigrated to the Land of Israel, then Palestine. This odd sounding name was a source of frustration to him and to the entire family. Had it been Rabinowitch, Abramowitch, or Haimowitch — a more common Jewish name, neither he nor anybody in the family would have been made self-conscious. Like so many new young pioneers, my father changed his surname upon landing in Jaffa. Adding to the frustration associated with that name was my grandfather’s advice: “Anybody with the consonants KSTRL, regardless of the vowels between them, is your relative.” These parting words to my father started a life long search for the origin and meaning of this surname and for those persons who had it. The present paper treats methods of investigating etymologies and applied meanings of an unusual surname based on scholarly resources and oral narratives of family history.

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