Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In Praise of Alexander Beider's Book

I recently wrote, via Alexander Beider's book, about a couple of names from my mother's family in Galicia. This book has taught me a profound lesson: never question someone's name. This scholarly work is quite a find and is quite the antidote to the garden variety ignorance that causes people to brush off other people's names as mistakes.

My uncle's name was Shmayah.  It's another one of those names.  When people hear it they say, "You mean Shmaryah."  Shmayah was a Navi, mentioned in Melachim Bet 12:22 and in Divrei haYamim Bet, 12:15. He was the main prophet in Yehudah during the reign of Rechovam. It is also (Beider does not mention this, but the YU librarian reminded me) the name of a famous rabbi mentioned in Avot, half of the zug of Shmayah and Avtalyon.

Beider confirms that my grandfather's middle name Maneleh is a legitimate Galician name. It developed from Emanuel, my grandfather's "English" middle name.  (Or it may have developed from Man, which was also once a popular name, itself either the end of popular names such as Herman or a German name that originated as Mann.) Emanuel was the son of Yishayahu, as stated there 97:14). It was a common name in the Middle Ages in Italy and France. It was a very unusual Ashkenazic Jewish name until the eighteenth century.

Beider consistently uses the word hypocorism which was a new word for me. It means pet name/nickname. Maneleh is a hypocorism of Emanuel or of Mann. Mann/Man was borrowed by Jews from their Christian neighbors The derivitive knicknames of each overlap and it's hard to tell which, originally, went for which.  People are not so far off when they say that a name is not a real name but a nickname.  It often started that way but then it developed into an actual/official given name.

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