A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire
Alexander Beider

Avotaynu, Inc.
P.O. Box 1134
Teaneck, NJ 07666

This comprehensive reference work presents Beider's catalog and analysis of Jewish names occurring in the Pale of Settlement in the Russian Empire. Some extracts follow.

Types of Jewish Surnames

Beider distinguishes nine types:

  1. Cohen or Levite origin
  2. Rabbinical
  3. Toponymic
  4. Derived from masculine given names
  5. Derived from feminine given names
  6. Occupational
  7. Based on personal characteristics
  8. Artificial
  9. Acronymic

In the Vilna guberniya the most common sources of names were toponyms and rabbinical surnames (just over half). Names derived from feminine given names were uncommon (3.5%). In the Mogilev guberniya, however, the latter category accounted for 38.6% of the surnames, and in the Vitebsk guberniya, for 11.7%

Surnames became obligatory at the beginning of the 19th century.

Generally speaking, the Jewish attitude toward their new surnames was very negative. While Jews have traditionally paid particular attention to their names, the forced adoption of surnames was not generated by the internal life of the Jewish community. Rather, it was ordered by the Christian governmental authorities ... [A]lmost all Russian Jews received surnames at the beginning of the 19th centruy, but the most common reaction was for the Jews to ignore them ...

[David Gold, JLR 1985, 5:375]:

  1. At least five eastern Ashkenazim did not know their official surnames until they left Russia at the beginning of the 20th century ...
  2. In his autobiography, the American physician B. Gordon writes that until the age of eight, he did not know his own surname.
  3. When asked her maiden name, one consultant ... said that she had forgotten it.

The first group of surnames was connected with the ukase of August 26, 1827 relating to military service. Names like Khaper, Khapman, Khapun, Khapchik, Nekrutman relate to "captors" seeking draftable "recruits".

The name Cherlin

Here is the entire entry from Beider's dictionary:

Cherlin FS: see Sorin.

This means that the name is a matronymic. That is, F: female given name; S: son of.

Similarly, for Tsirlin:

Tsirlin (Mstislavl') FS: see Sorin.

This includes the geographical indication, Mstislavl'. Incidentally, he gives the name Tsirklin, a variant, as associated with Disna (which we know from the Plisa line).

The Sorin entry contains about 150 variants, and is too tedious to insert here.