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Meaning cat's elbow (even though they don't have any), how did the German word katzenellenbogen become a fairly common surname?

Question #78347. Asked by satguru.
Last updated Oct 15 2016.

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lanfranco
Answer has 11 votes
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lanfranco
18 year member
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Answer has 11 votes.

Currently voted the best answer.
The name comes from the old medieval county, and now small German city, Katzenelnbogen, derived from "Cattimelibocus," apparently a Roman name for a German tribe. A prolific family of rabbis living in the area took the location's name as a surname.

There was, in fact, an art historian by this name.


link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katzenelnbogen

Apr 05 2007, 7:18 AM
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satguru star
Answer has 2 votes
satguru star
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20 year member
1295 replies avatar

Answer has 2 votes.
You're right about the rabbis, when I googled nearly every name was one, except our neighbours who shortened it to Bogen.
So what they call 'Hobson-Jobson', where a foreign word is transformed into something familiar. Fascinating result, they probably saw the humour in it, German or not ;)

Apr 05 2007, 10:03 AM
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Flem-ish
Answer has 4 votes
Flem-ish
22 year member
894 replies avatar

Answer has 4 votes.
I am not too sure about that German sense of humour in this case. Though it is correct that many Jews adopted citynames when they were forced to choose a surname, it must be taken into account that especially in Prussia it often was a city official who chose a name for them, and as this other site points out, the poorer Jews usually were given slightly ridiculous,derogatory or to say the least "funny" names. Many a Prussian official may have chosen the name Katzenellenbogen for his Jewish customer more by "Schadenfreude" (malicious pleasure)than by geographical wisdom.

[freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~hjohnson/surnamehistory.html#mozTocId135697 -- no longer online]

Response last updated by nautilator on Oct 15 2016.
Apr 05 2007, 2:05 PM
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satguru star
Answer has 2 votes
satguru star
Moderator
20 year member
1295 replies avatar

Answer has 2 votes.
I thought the same thing, but was more referring to the existence of such a name at all, before adopted as a surname. What they did with it afterwards is clearly a different matter and would depend whether the family chose the name or it was imposed on them. But the name appeared to have been much older than the surname as many jews didn't use surmnames until made to by law.

Apr 05 2007, 5:52 PM
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Flem-ish
Answer has 2 votes
Flem-ish
22 year member
894 replies avatar

Answer has 2 votes.
The length of the word Katzen-ellen-bogen is also somewhat funny.This way of creating very long compounds occasionally fires back on the Germans e.g. in titles such as Reichs-ober-gruppen-führer,SS-ober-gruppen-führer, Ober-sturm-bahn-führer,Sturm-gruppen-führer. Very solemn, but also a little ridiculous. During the war people in the occupied territories created their own imitations of such "long compounds" . E.g.Schweine-puppe-fleisch for pork.
Literally pig-butt-meat. Puppe does not really exist in German but was created after a Flemish dialectword.

Apr 06 2007, 2:34 PM
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lanfranco
Answer has 2 votes
lanfranco
18 year member
4407 replies avatar

Answer has 2 votes.
When my husband and I were in grad school in Art History, we sent around an April Fool's Day memo announcing the formation of a departmental bowling team. In the memo, we noted that the proposed team name, "Kunstgeschichtlichekegelbahngruppe" (an entirely fabricated term meaning "History of Art Bowling Team") probably wouldn't fit on the shirts.

I'm sure that the Germans must have a more efficient term for "bowling team," but we were playing both on the hysteria of Art History grad students regarding their German exams and the frequent occurrence of lengthy compound nouns in German.

Apr 06 2007, 4:25 PM
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