Skip To Content
Get Our Newsletter

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe

July 25, 2008

Belke, Rivke and Gitl

Philologos writes of children who took their mothers’ names (“How Did Jews Choose Their Last Names?”, July 18. I know of no other culture where there are surnames based on women’s first names.

A remarkable number of names are based on Yiddish women’s names or diminutives of these names, which often ended in “l” or “ke.” A woman named Bella or Beyle might also be called Belke. A surname could be formed by adding “s,” the Yiddish possessive ending, or “in,” a Slavic suffix with many meanings.

Belkin, Beilin and Beylis would all be possible names based on the same first name. We also find Rivkin, Rivlin and Rivlis from Rivke; Dworkin and Dworin from Dvoyre; Gitlin, Gutkin and Gitlis from Gute or Gitl; and many other names of this type.

It is interesting that Yiddish is the only language that gave the world female-based surnames.

George Jochnowitz
Professor Emeritus of Linguistics
College of Staten Island, CUNY
New York, N.Y.




Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free under an Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives Creative Commons license as long as you follow our republishing guidelines, which require that you credit Foward and retain our pixel. See our full guidelines for more information.

To republish, copy the HTML, which includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline, and credit to Foward. Have questions? Please email us at

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.