Toledano – The Name

by Yacov Tal Toledano

Toledano (Me Toleda, Me Toletola, De Toleda). Toledo, the ancient capital of the kingdom of Castile, is the ancestral home for all who are descended from Toledanos. There is a widespread legend about the origin of the name. Some say that when Jews living in Toledo were expelled from Spain, they took an oath to never return and adopted the name ‘Toleda-No’. This is only a myth, as Jews bearing the name Toledano were found in Spain more than 250 years before the expulsion. The truth is that in Spanish the name means ‘a person from Toledo’.

Family names beautifully illustrate the history of the Jews in the Iberian Peninsula. The first Jews, arrived in Spain after the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem (580 BC). They bore Hebrew names. During the times of the Roman empire, more Jews arrived in Spain. These bore Greek, Latin or Hebrew names. When conquered by the Arabs (Moors) in the early eighth century, Spain became a shelter for many Jews. Under Islamic rule they enjoyed religious freedom. They prospered and became involved in commerce and in the government. During this period, many Jews adopted Arabic names. Some families retained their Hebrew names, leaving a legacy of fascinating combinations of Arabic and Hebrew. After the tenth century when Spain was re-conquered by the Christians, these same Arabic and Hebrew names were still being used by the Spanish Jews. It was not until the sixteenth century and the Inquisition that Jews changed their names. Many were forcibly converted and baptized. They took Spanish-Christian names becoming "New Christians" of Spain or "Conversos". Pejoratively they were referred to as "Marranos" or "pigs".

Conversos exhibited a strong love of tradition. They retained their Spanish-Christian names when they were able to later "re-convert" to Judaism. Even those, who fled the country, tended to keep their Spanish names wherever they moved. This practice of retaining family names intact has enabled us today to trace the histories of Sephardic Jews. An additional advantage is that a large proportion of these Spanish names are derived from names of places as in the case of Toledano. Family names in their original ancient forms are rarely in existence today.

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