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What’s in a Name? » Finding my grandmothers

What’s in a Name?

I began my interest in genealogy many years ago but only in ernest started being serious about it a few months ago. I had photographs, documents and records of some relatives and I had questions, so many questions. I think I am emerging from the beginner stage of this type of research. I may still make beginner mistakes, but as an experienced librarian, I hit the ground running, so to speak.

One of the first things I discovered and am still learning about is how so many name variations come to be. My surname for example, Perbohner, has also been spelled with no letter ‘h’. The spelling with an ‘h’ is the German spelling, and without is Russian as there is no letter ‘h’ in the Russian alphabet I am told. So that’s what I knew, two ways to spell it.

What I actually found so far with spelling variations includes Terbohner, Parboner, Proboner, Porboner, etc. Maybe one half of all of my ancestors with my surname have at least one record with a spelling alteration from transcription or pronunciation recording errors. And then I learned through a document a relative wrote around 50 years ago that two brothers, Jacob and William, changed their surnames before they came to the US. They originally used the surname Bernhardt and soon after dropped the letter ‘t’. And their parents sometimes used the name Bernhardt. And other males adopted the name as their first name, with or without the letter ‘t’.

I wondered how they chose one particular name over another? Why would they do that, what did it mean? From what I understand today is that Jews did not adopt permanent family names until the 18th and 19th centuries when the adoption of permanent surnames in the German States was compulsory. An encyclopedia from 1906 explains part of the situation this way, “In Germany the tendency to adopt Christian names was perhaps most marked, such names as Bernhard,…” This story I am learning is not only of my family, but of history as well. And it’s being revealed to me piece by piece.

I’ll likely post again about this name issue. It’s a BIG one.

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