The following is a post which appeared in the Gesher Galicia SIG digest from August 29, 2011.
In this post, Suzan Wynne discusses the ‘v.’ which is commonly found in Galician records.
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Subject: abbreviation v is for vel non
From: “Suzan Wynne”
Date: Sun, 28 Aug 2011 20:04:55 -0400
The abbreviation “v,” commonly found in Galician records about Jewish events, stands for vel non, a Latin legal term, which means “or not” or “alternatively.” This Latin term was adapted from the Latin that was commonly used for recording Jewish and non-Jewish vital events in Galicia until 1877 when the government authorized the kehillot to be responsible for collecting and maintaining Jewish births, marriages (civil), and deaths.
The abbreviation was used when the parents of the individual had not had the required civil marriage or when the individual him or herself had not had the required civil marriage. It applied to a man as well as a woman. The individual’s surname was styled with both the surname of the mother and the father or used to show the woman’s “maiden” name and the religiously married name. This styling is seen more in birth and marriage records than death records. I’ve also seen it in marriage records for the parents of the bride and groom! Now, that registrar must have been a real stickler for correctness! Indeed, not every registrar employed this styling. It seems to be more common among non-Jewish registrars in small places.
A word of explanation on that last point is in order. After 1877, there were more or less 73 Jewish districts (kehillot) and most had subdistricts. Each district was to employ Jewish registrars with tax funds collected by the kehilla. These registrars were nominated by the elected kehilla leaders and officially appointed by the government. The government issued regulations for the registrars to follow in collecting and maintaining vital records. The regulations attempted to cover pretty much all situations and exceptions. I have the original German regulations and the English translation of them. Every Jew, by law, came under the jurisdiction of a kehilla for a wide array of purposes. Every town and village in Galicia was part of a Jewish district/kehilla. However, for practical and financial reasons, not all registrars, in all the tiny places where Jews lived, were Jewish. That would have been prohibitively expensive for the district kehilla to support. Therefore, Jews could and did register their events in such small places with non-Jewish registrars, who were compelled, by law, to submit the information to the district kehilla.
Silver Spring, MD
In addition to the above, I found another short explanation in the wonderful book by Alexander Beider “Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia” (see here: http://www.avotaynu.com/books/DJSG.htm):
1.8 Surname changes
Assigned surnames were to become hereditary. On June 5. 1826, the Austrian government promulgated a new law concerning Jewish names:
In the future, any change of a family name will be allowed only at the moment of conversion to the Christian religion or when conferring nobility, and in the latter case, also only with explicit very highest approval. All other cases of family name changes are reserved for the Emperor’s personal decision.
As a result of the application of this legislation, apart from a small number of persons who were authorized to choose a new hereditary appellation and who took advantage of this possibility, at the beginning of the 20th century the great majority of Galician Jews were bearing surnames adopted by their direct ancestors after the laws of 1787 for Eastern Galicia and 1805 for Western Galicia (and namely the city of Krakow).
This statement deserves two important comments. Firstly, numerous changes of spelling occurred during the 19th and start of the 20th centuries due to several factors of which the total indifference of the Jewish masses to their official surnames is the most important. Various scribes would spell the same name in different ways. An analysis of civil records shows that these variations were mainly phonetic. This factor implies that when spelling names the
scribes based their writing not on earlier official documents belonging to the same families, but rather on the way these appellations were pronounced. Moreover, after the official dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1919, Galicia belonged to independent Poland, a country whose official language was Polish. Consequently, some surnames were respelled from German to Polish. As a result, persons whose names at the end of the 18th century were for example, Friedmann and Ohrschützer. could have descendants in the 20th century called Fridman(n) or Frydman, and Orschützer, or Orschitzer, or Ohrschizer, or Orszycer, etc. In other cases, scribes were adding or removing common suffixes, and as a result, someone called Grünberg in one document could appear as Grünberger in another document.
Secondly it appears that during the 19th century, in a very large number of cases, the surnames assigned to new-born children were those of their mothers and not their fathers. This phenomenon is related to a very specific situation concerning the marital statuses of Jews in the Hapsburg Empire. Officials recognized only civil marriages, and often Jewish couples only were married in synagogue according to the Jewish tradition. This type of marriage was not accepted by Christian clerks. As a result, children born without a civil marriage of their parents were considered illegitimate and received the surnarnes of their mothers It was the case even at the turn of the 20th Century, though during that time the number of marriages recorded in civil instances was gradually increasing. For example, in 1895, 78,9 percent of newborns were considered illegitimate, while in 1900 it was only 74.7 percent, and u in 1902 7.1 percent.
Sometimes surnames were translated from one language to another, and both would be used in civil records. Due to the above factors, in a large number of Galician Jewish families, several surnames were present in various official documents for the same individuals. Certain sources explicitly mention this phenomenon giving alternate names.
The common way to acknowledge this was to write these names separated by the Polish word of Lati orign vel or its abbreviation v. meaning “alias” or “otherwise called”. For example, one finds in the civil records of Skala compiled during the last two decades of the 19th century the following entries: Schapira v Spirer (phonetic variation plus the addition of the suffix -er) Weinraub v Weintraub (phonetic distortion of the first form), Schneider V Krawiec (translation: both forms mean tailor), Tischler v Stolar (translation; both forms mean joiner ,carpenter), Brotfeld v Breitbard, Mojdlowicz v Schneider, Lutwak v Dodik, Jaged v Kaller, Augenbilük v Liebling, Herzog v Kränzler, Kreutner v Kaufman, Kreutner v Pudel, Gottfiied v Weinstein, Stok v Händler, Heller v Meiselman Fleischman v Kohut. Schächter v Edelstein, and Sperling v Holenberg.
Although in the 19th century surnames were regularly included in all civil records of Galicia, their use was unusual in internal Jewish life. Outside the sphere of official documents, Jews continued to use their traditional naming patterns. For example, well into the 19th century, Jewish surnames on tombstones appeared only among families of the bourgeoisie of big cities. Provincial and/or orthodox families did not inscribe their surnames on tomb tombstones; only their given names and patronymics. In certain other cases, the names present in tombstone inscriptions could represent the Hebrew translation of the genuine surname. This is the case of Franzos (meaning Frenchman in German) appearing as צרפתי (Frenchman in Hebrew) on tombstones in the Brody cemetery.
(source: “Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia” by Dr. Alexander Beider (ISBN 978-1886223196) pages 15-16)