When Were Surnames First Required in Poland?

Surnames were required in Poland beginning 1821, by a decree of Tsar Aleksander I, on 27 Mar 1821:

Congress Kingdom of Poland Laws Register No. 28 of 1821
“[E]very Jew residing in the Congress Kingdom of Poland, should, within six months of the declaration date of this act, declare and confirm, with the census of the public offices, the first name and surname which he has used to that time and that which he will use, invariably, in the future… Whereas, if any one of them does not have a first name and permanent surname or cannot prove this, he should declare that which he will accept and will continue to use.”

Source: Elżbieta Surma-Jończyk and Ewa Dubaj, “Sources, in the State Archive in Częstochowa, for Researching the History of the Częstochowa Jewish Community to 1939.” Seminar, “The History of the Jewish Population in the Częstochowa Region,” Mar 2017, Częstochowa.

From the same source:

Register records from the beginning of the 19th century form an important archival resource. Civil registries and registers were introduced, together with the Napoleonic Code, into the Congress Kingdom of Poland. In 1808, Fryderyk August, Saxon king and prince of Warsaw, decreed the introduction of civil registry records. In principle, secular registrars were to maintain registers. However, due to a lack of appropriately educated individuals, it was left to clergymen to perform the task. This state of affairs continued until 1825, when civil registry records were merged with church registers. By a decision of the viceroy, dated 3rd November 1825, local mayors were appointed to create records for non-Christians, including Jews. Additionally, by a decision of the Administrative Council on 7th October 1830, rabbis were obliged to create a record following their conducting of a religious rite.

What about before 1821? Indeed, many Jews did actually use surnames before 1821. Others used patronymic names, such as Abramowicz or Berkowicz or Jakubowicz.

We see a huge variety of surnames among Jews. One type is called a “toponymic” surname, meaning a surname based on a place. For example: Radomski, Klobucki, Plawner, and Warszawski.

Here is an excellent article on the origin of Jewish surnames.

Read other topics regarding Polish Jewish genealogy.

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