Jews in Catalonia: 1250 to 1400

by Juliana de Luna (Julia Smith)

© 2002 by Julia Smith; all rights reserved.

This article describes the names used by Jews in 13th and 14th century Catalonia (the area around Barcelona, in modern Spain), as found in a series of wills written in Latin. Wills are especially useful for studying names because many female family members are mentioned, receiving at least small bequests. Thus, this is a great place to look at women's names.

The names from this source are divided into two lists. The first gives names in their Latin spellings as they were found in the document. One hundred and fifty three names like this were found. The second list gives names that the editor modified to give underlying Catalan forms. One hundred and forty-four names like this were found. Both lists are used to generate frequency counts; only the first is used to examine spelling variations. A complete list of given names is found below.

Many Jewish men's names were Biblical in nature (such as Mosse 'Moses' and Salamo 'Solomon').  However, others were names from the local language (in this case, Catalan).  Names like Vidal (from vita 'life') and Durant were used by local Christians as well as Jews.  Of the top five men's names, three (Mosse, Salamo, and Juceff) are biblical, while two (Vidal and Astruc) are Catalan names.

Women's names, on the other hand, were rarely biblical.  Of the top five women's names, only one (Aster 'Esther') is biblical, while the rest (Regina, Bonafilia, Bonadona, and Astruga) are Catalan names.  However, the names of Jews and Christian women were not identical.  Names that were common for Christian women, such as Berenguera and Ermissendis are not found here, while Astruga is a rare name for a Christian woman.

Some of the names found here display an Arabic influence.  Thus, such names as Omar and Habib can be found here, as well as some surname forms influenced by the Arabic ibn (such as Abenvives).

Some men in this text use the title En, which is a title of respect in Catalan, which is roughly equivalent to our use of 'Lord' in the Society.  The equivalent title for women is Na, which is not found here.

Men's given names by frequency
Men's given names alphabetically
Women's given names by frequency
Women's given names alphabetically

The "typical" Jewish naming pattern is a given name, followed by a patronymic name.  In Hebrew, this takes the form of ben 'son of' for men, followed by the father's name.  While this form is occasionally seen here, more frequently the given name is followed by the father's name without "ben" or "bat."  Additional descriptors, such as locative bynames or indications of priestly status (Cohen or Levi) are sometimes used either after or in place of a patronymic.  Locative surnames, which identify where people were born or have lived, are found as well.  Almost all men (100 of 112) have some kind of byname. 

Of those one hundred men, the vast majority (eighty-six) have single bynames. Thirty-five of them have a simple patronymic byname. Twenty-two have a simple locative byname. Of the fourteen with two names, seven combine a patronymic byname with Cohen, five have a locative element as the second name, and only two combine a patronymic with what may be the father's byname or an inherited surname. An unexpected byname is Iudeo 'Jew', a descriptive name common in texts written by Christians, but hardly a useful identifier in these documents, where everyone is Jewish.

Women rarely have true bynames, but are described in the text as 'my daughter' or 'my wife.' Even when men are described in this way, bynames are generally given as well. Six women (of forty-one) have bynames. Three are described as someone's wife (uxor Abrahe de la Roxela), two as someone's daughter (filia Adzero), and in one case as someone's sister (sorori dicte Macose). Interestingly, the two women described as someone's daughter were described as their mother's daughter. This may be an artifact of the sample: each was a granddaughter of the will writer. However, no women were described as their father's daughter.

Men's bynames
Women's bynames

All names - Men

All names - Women


Burns, Robert I., Jews in the Notarial Culture: Latinate Wills in Mediterranean Spain, 1250-1350.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

HTML editing by Kathy Van Stone
Last updated: 25 September, 2002