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Sephardic Surnames in North Africa

Those whose family roots are in North Africa and are searching for the origin and meaning of their surnames are very lucky because major works have been published on this topic. The first such research was conducted by Ismael Hamet who published in 1928 a booklet entitled : Les Juifs du Nord de l'Afrique: noms et surnoms (Jews of North Africa: names and surnames). Since then 5 major studies have been published. Two books by Maurice Eisenbeth (Algiers, 1938) and Joseph Toledano (Jerusalem, 1999) cover the 3 countries of North Africa: Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. A study by Jacques Taieb (Paris, 2004) covers these North African countries and Libya. A comprehensive research on the names of Jews of Morocco was published by Laredo in Madrid in 1978. The fifth publication, by Paul Sebag (Paris, 2002), deals with a special approach on the surnames of Jews of Tunisia.

The books by Maurice Eisenberg and Paul Sebag also include a biography alongside some surnames, but not on a regular basis.

The book of Abraham Laredo is the most detailed study because of its extensive introduction- an onomastic analysis- and because he added biographies of notables who carried the names and sources documents. In many cases Laredo even points to a source document found in pre-Expulsion Spanish archives. Toledano has also added biographies sometimes of very recent dates.

Onomastics is not an exact science, so sometimes some authors agree on the origin of a name while others disagree and have different suggestions. We had the idea to compile a cumulative index of these 5 books in order to make easier the search for a single name. The by-product of this index is the exhaustive list of the North African Jewish surnames. The present compilation includes 12,040 names.

For each author the main entry name and its variants have been listed as well as each variant and its root name.

The result of a search for a single name will show that sometimes the authors all agree and when they do not. When this happens the database will show that according to Author 1, name A is a main entry and has some variants, while for Author II, name A is in fact the variant of name B and name A is among the name B variants.

Because of copyright restrictions, the database does not provide information such as the name meanings.

Note: While all the other four books are alphabetically arranged according to the Latin alphabet, Laredo's book is classified according to the Hebrew spellings of the names and each name has a current number. With no book index, it is difficult to find a name in Laredo's book. Taking advantage of this database compilation, the number under which they have been entered in Laredo's book is provided for convenience in locating it in the book.

Sources:

Eisenbeth, Maurice. Les Juifs d'Afrique du Nord; démographie et onomastique. Alger, 1936.
Laredo, Abraham. Les noms des Juifs du Maroc; essai d'onomasique judéo-marocaine. Madrid, Institut Arias Montano, 1978.
Sebag, Paul. Les noms des Juifs de Tunisie; origines et significations. Paris, L'Harmattan, 2002.
Taieb, Jacques. Juifs du Maghreb; noms de famille et société. Paris, Cercle de Généalogie Juive, 2004.
Toledano, Joseph. Une histoire de familles; les noms de famille d'Afrique du Nord. Jérusalem, 1999.

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the tremendous contributions and lifelong dedication of Mathilde Tagger, z"l who made this index available. For many years, and right until her untimely death, Mathilde Tagger was a very close friend and collaborator with Jeff Malka. Together they worked to promote Sephardic genealogy research and educate the public about its enormous potential.

In addition, we express our grateful appreciation to Dr. Jeff Malka for his monumental ongoing effort to collect and make accessible Sephardic genealogical information, and for his generosity in contributing his extraordinarily valuable collection to JewishGen.


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