Jewish Families in the United Kingdom

Is your family one of the oldest Jewish families in the UK? Or are you just interested in Jewish history generally? In either case you will find the attached fascinating. Please get in touch with the project if you feel you can contribute.


By David Jacobs and Patrick Hanks

The “Family Names in the UK” Research Project (FaNUK) at the University of the West of England, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is investigating the origins, history, migration patterns, and geographical distribution of all family names with more than 100 bearers in Britain (plus a number of rare but “interesting” names), regardless of where they come from or how long they have been here.  One particularly important thread is the history of Jews in Britain.  It is generally accepted that Jews have made a disproportionately large and valuable contribution to the cultural, intellectual, and economic life of Britain, often in the face of prejudice and ignorance. Modern British Jewry provides a model of balance between social integration and preservation of religious and cultural heritage. Any investigation of modern family names must do justice to Jewish family names and their history in Britain.

There are a few well-known milestones:
• Jewish settlement in England from northern France under William I in 1070
• The blood libel and ritual murder charges and persecution beginning in 1189 prior to the expulsion of the Jews in 1290.
• The petition of Rabbi ben Israel of Amsterdam to Oliver Cromwell in 1655
• Resettlement of Jews  in England starting in 1656
• Sephardic immigration from the 17th century onwards
• The establishment of an Ashkenazic community in London in 1690
• The Jewish Naturalization Bill of 1753
• The admission of Jews to Parliament and to the Bar in the 19th century
• Mass immigration from Eastern and Central Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries.

It would be good to put some flesh on these bare bones in the context of researching family names, addressing questions such as the following:

• Who are the earliest known bearers of each Jewish family name in Britain?
• Can such a UK Jewish family name be traced back to an original immigrant?
• If the original immigrant is known, when did the family first arrive in Britain and where did they come from?  Where in Britain did they establish themselves? What was their prior history?
• In what language and under what national administration was the name of each Jewish family now found in the UK coined, adopted, or imposed?
• To what extent have names of Yiddish and other European origin been anglicized?
• What are the processes of anglicization. In the anglicization of Yiddish and other European surnames, which names were calqued (e.g. Zuckermann > Sugarman), shortened (e.g. Sugar), or otherwise changed?
•  How can we identify apparently English names that are also Jewish (e.g. Morton)?
• In the case of polygenetic names like Morton and Goldsmith, what are the relative proportions of Jewish and gentile bearers?
• What does each name mean, and what, if any, are the religious, cultural, or other implications of the name?
• Some families can trace their genealogy to a single ‘key ancestor’—someone who had many marrying male children who themselves had male marrying children.  How many Jewish key ancestors can be identified, and what can be said about them?
• Some families (e.g., among the gentiles, Cecil, Cavendish, Campbell) have made a particular contribution over several generations to the political or cultural life of Britain.  What should be said about similar Jewish families, for example Montefiore, Rothschild, Mocatta, Goldsmid, and Sassoon?
• Was the pattern of Jewish migration into Scotland and Ireland different from that into England and Wales?
• What are the main centres of Jewish settlement today, and were they always there?
• What are the comparative frequencies of Jewish surnames in the UK? (FaNUK already has some data on this)

The coordinator for Jewish family names in the project is David Jacobs, Chairman of the Jewish Historical Society:
email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Linguistic and etymological information for the project will be based on the contribution of David Gold to the Dictionary of Surnames (ed. Hanks and Hodges, Oxford University Press, 1988) and of Alexander Beider to the Dictionary of American Family Names (ed. Hanks, Oxford University Press, 2003). In addition, we shall be very glad to receive information about family history and early bearers of particular names that will help us to provide answers to at least some of the above questions. Please send such information to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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