20 Jul: Napoleon’s Surname Decree

France’s Jewish population mostly had no family surnames – until 20th July, 1808, when Napoleon issued a decree insisting they adopted one. They were not permitted to choose place names, and allusions to the Old Testament were forbidden.

Rumours persist that some families were charged higher fees to adopt prettier names, but in a Europe rife with antisemitism, Napoleon’s creations of Jewish consistoires (regulatory bodies) is still seen by some as a relatively tolerant policy.

In this episode, Rebecca, Olly and Arion reveal the genesis of their names, explain how compound names like Rosenberg and Goldberg came about, and reveal the world’s names most in danger of extinction.

Further Reading:

• The Imperial Decree, at Napoloeon.org: 


• ‘What’s in a Surname: The History of Surnames and How They Help in Family History Research’, (MyHeritage, 2019):

• Alec Berg’s surname inspires this epiosde of Curb Your Enthusiasm: