A Man by any Other Name
When coming across the Benardout Appreciation Society Facebook page quite by accident in 2010, your collator was quite struck by how the peculiarity of the name seems to have been the trigger for the page - that and apparently nothing else.

But it also meant that the younger generations were interested, and the heart beat a little faster.

A first vital issue has to be dealt with straight away : How far can one rely on the surname as indicating one's belonging to a certain Family ? Luckily, our name is not one of the most wide-spread ones, and seems at least never to have been usurped although it has obviously passed through "adjustments " in spelling and pronunciation from country to country, continent to continent. This has made it's usage in the more distant past challenging to follow sometimes and Aye ! There's the rub.

If you are familiar with the practice of English or European society, you might expect a family name to be sound and reliable, identical or easily recognizable even after a thousand years. I mean, - the Percy's are still Percy's and the Spenser's still Spenser's. Any changes in
their names have been quite minimal if at all.

But t'ain't necessar'ly so,
- and it certainly was not so in the late Middle Ages when our much offended People was in total flux. Nor does it help when the Family name is dragged from culture to culture, language to language, continent to continent, every 400 years or so.

There are anchors here and there which allow us to feel totally comfortable that we are reading about ourselves just as there are variants which shake that reliance. One example of an anchor is the use of HaCohen before or after the Benardout, - indicating one's belonging to the Priestly sect.
When the two appear together there is more confidence that we are indeed reading about ourselves. But alas - the use of HaCohen is rarely practised today and seems to have gone quite out of fashion even amongst many active historians referring to us.

What is becoming of our arrogance, Brothers ?

On the other hand, an example of a variant is brought which can unsettle that confidence. Take for example, the case from the 16th century of one
Joseph Ben Ardut, from the glory days of Donna Grazia (Beatrice de Luna under her converso name), and her nephew Don Joseph Nasi (Joao Miguez under his converso name), when the latter took on the rebuilding of a Jewish Tiberias on the shores of the Kinnereth (Sea of Galilee). This was at the beginning of the 1560's. Joseph Nasi sent our historically acknowledged relative to supervise the work in situ on his behalf. By the way, - Joseph Ben Ardut's converso name was Pomar (or Fumar if you read it from the Hebrew).

This ancestor's modest place in Jewish History is detailed a little more in the chapter on Tiberias but pops up and appears throughout these pages like a thread for he himself and his name encompass many an aspect currently of interest.

One is that he can be found under no less than 5 differing names - Well,
six actually, if you include his converso one, and in Latin script that can be written in two differing ways as already shown, so that makes 7.

So do the differences in name really matter ? Maybe not, but the important question here is -
Which is the right name to be followed-up through the records and over the centuries ?

I have tried to be very careful and aware of the damage that time and transliteration can ravage even to a name and have been cautious when following it. For once you set out and the Pied Piper's pipes are heard, you can have no idea towards what chasm they may be drawing you on. On more than one occasion when writing these pages the author has had to take a breather and step back a little because the family-name trail being followed was beginning to look
decidedly wrong.

And then the question has to be faced as to the closeness or even one-ness of the
Arditi family in those days and even today as well. Are we in fact still one single but very broadly expanded Family, once perhaps more closely connected in the 15th century ? Or is this all in error and in fact we have been two distinct families ever since the days of the Visigoths in Spain ?

There is no intention here to attempt any definitive answers but the questions always hover durings one's research and in later chapters under Spain, Turkey and Tiberias these issues will be touched upon again. Then you can start to decide for yourselves.

If you start investigating the Benardout/Arditi connection, you will find web-sites and other sources which seem to conflict with or compete with each other i.e., may attribute the same information to a member of the Arditi family. Take for example, the apparent predominance of Rabbis in Izmir (Smyrna) from the Arditi Family as against the apparent absence of any Benardout Rabbis there.

And yet
we know that there were Benardout Rabbis in Izmir (Smyrna), usually sent there from Salonika itself. But these sometimes cannot be traced in web-site records. Even where I came across a Rabbi who looked to be a family candidate, but with the Arditi surname, that didn't always work out either because the dates of death didn't mesh so it probably was in fact someone else. On the other hand we have found one authority that states how the Arduts did use Ardit in Spain but on the journey eastwards after 1492 italianised it in Venice, spreading out indeed through Istanbul, Thessalonika and Smyrna......and today in South America, North Africa...........


It is quite possible on the other hand, that the Saloniki Rabbis were written out of Izmir's history because of the terrible split within the latter congregation and the regular appointment (for a period) of
two competing Chief Rabbis, - (rather as is done in Israel today), - with the Saloniki being the "outsider " and ultimately on the side lost to History ? Simply another example of how much serious work is required before reaching any conclusion.

For clarity's sake, it would not be out of order here to make a first couple of language comments about the name, - for those less familiar than others with its variations. Later on, other such comments about its origin are brought, more closely connected with the subject matter of that later Chapter :
  1. Ben is simply a Hebrew prefix meaning "son of " of course, and is interchanged with ibn in the Arabic or Aven in Spanish. Nothing complicated there.
  2. Whether our surname is of Hebrew origin or from the Latin, the Spanish or even the Arabic is still not altogether clear. The undersigned has his own views, but there are arguments hither and thither. At this time just one first theory is brought, - to whet the appetite so to speak.
If the name is from the Hebrew, - (and this comment is for those of us not too familiar with that language), - one should remind that Hebrew is not usually vowelled so that the name's root-letters, - ( in our case : a r d or only possibly r d t - as in Roditi for example), - can easily be misread, mispronounced and wrongly written in Latin-script, especially by historians having little understanding of Hebrew.

I refer later to possibilities that the name is in fact from Middle Ages Spanish, and not "Jewish " at all in origin.

One can come across versions of the name such as Ben Aderet or Ben Adret, even Ben Ardayet, when expecting to find Ben Ardut due to a previous reference, and not to mention Arditi of course, although this last is almost always without the Ben prefix.

One is entitled to believe that there is actually no difference, that at most these were only attempts for those days at interchanging Hebrew, Spanish or even Arabic names to replace, to hide or to politically improve the original one, - and not just a matter of poor transliteration. After all, many Cohen's are today Cowan's, Levy's are Lewis's and so on. Nothing in it.

It is tempting to adopt this reasoning since it would seem to follow Jewish practice in the Middle Ages even though one
must query the choice of one of these, - Aderet - a definitely self-flattering monika out of the Hebrew dictionary. But who knows what they got up to under fluctuating Catholic pressures in Spain's 14th and 15th centuries ?

If we understand the Hebrew Aderet, (there is an alternative interpretation for the Spanish word Adret, brought in another chapter), as meaning not just cloak or coat but also "splendour ", "crown of glory " or "magnificence ", then why should the Benardout Rabbis in Spain and in late middle-ages Tzfat and the Galilee, those who were so learned and famed for their work on the Kabbalah and the Zohar, not have adopted it as their Hebrew name proper ?

Next question.

Go in the other direction for a minute after coming down to earth - differences in spelling may have simply arisen from a badly written "resh
(r) " in Hebrew or a misshapen "vav (v) ", - they are not too dissimilar if badly scrawled. A similar point has already been made by Family members on the Facebook itself, - how that "r " (resh) is a nuisance at best - a curse at worst (as it sometimes is, indeed).

So when one eventually accepts that whatever name appears in the history books is indeed ours
, one must ask : Which is the "right " name to be followed-up over the next 400 years or so ? Ben Ardut ? Ben Aderet ? Ben Adret ? Ben Ardayet ? Arditi ? Any two ? Just one ? With or without the Ben ? A Full House.

And if all these versions are indeed just variants of the same Family name, then how many other Benardouts are out there of whom we know nada because they took with them one of the other versions and have since been completely lost to view ?

Transliteration of names can never be satisfactory. In our Family no original name is likely to have been taken from the Middle East to Roman and then Visogoth Spain - (after the Destruction of the Second Temple since there definitely
were Jews in Spain in the 1st century), - because Jewish surnames as we today think of them were simply not in common use until about the 12th century. Only those who were full Roman citizens would have carried them, probably taking a Latin name.

Then the name, whatever it was, underwent the influences of the
Moorish Arabic society and tongue after the Moorish conquest of most of Spain in 711, - to Spanish after the reconquest by the Catholics in the 13th century, - to Ottoman Arabic or Turkish in Salonika and the Ottoman Empire and in parallel to the form of Ladino maintained in Salonika in particular - to Greek - to French and to English. And now Australian. ......

I hastily apologise to all those who like myself have simplified, beautified or simply changed their name, for long ago your collator adopted his "pure " Hebrew name of Aharon Ben Yossef in preference to any Diaspora one, (to the horror and disgust of the Uncles, it is cheerfully recalled).
A strong trigger at the time for that sin, (1967), compounded by the even worse one of settling in Israel, may well have been that some people here in Israel used to miscall him Bernadotte, - hardly the name to carry one forward here except swiftly perhaps into the next World, (if you catch the historical reference).

Quite en passant, one should note that the Italian authorities reporting on transportations during the Holocaust, (see that chapter), used the transliterated form of Bernadut. Notice where they put the "r ".

The spelling of both is very close in Hebrew : Benardout בנארדוט is ours, - Bernadotte ברנאדוט would be the Hebrew spelling of the Swedish Royal Family's. That bloody wandering
"r " (resh) again !! Indeed, two e-mails have recently been received, one from a very knowledgeable Spaniard who was approached to help with this research, and there it is again - Bernadout. Oh Dear !! Shades even of the Napoleonic Wars. But Sweden ?

Just to balance this out and to stress the fact of the variants in the name being sometimes of little importance, this is as good a place as any to detail Don Joseph Nasi's names : Johan Migues, - Miquas, - Mihas, - and Mik. Just for the record. That was the fashion in the late Middle Ages by all accounts.

In this very 21st Century of ours,
Facebook shows that we collectively use Benardout, Benardouth, Benardot and BenArdout, (one word that, like it, - very neat), and in Israel we have found the name adjusted to Ben-Achdut. And all that is without any real social or political pressures at all. And then there are to be found Bernadot's in Nevada and Minnesota, (not too sure about them), a couple living in the Philippines, (there is at least one on Facebook from there), - and it's seemingly never-ending, the variety in spelling that the name generates.

If we should look for another possible "anchor " so as to restore confidence, that could be in the regular and reliable use of the same given names within a particular family during any one particular historical period. Indeed, one can sometimes come across such a pattern, -
See one simple example in the chapter on Tarazona. And most of you must surely follow this yourselves to a degree, - grandsons named after grandfathers in the Hebrew at least.

It is to be feared however that this discipline no longer strictly obtained outside the synagogue from the moment the Family began to leave Salonika at the end of the 19th century, fanned-out westwards and adopted European given names. The opening sections of the Family Tree
do however provide firm evidence of the traditional system up until the 1930's at least.

Someone has already asked me why our own generation has so many French-sounding given names. One answer would be that our Saloniki great-grandparents had already turned towards the strong wave of incoming European and particularly French language culture which swamped the Community there in the middle of the 19th century through the Alliance educational network, allowing that new culture to over-ride the strictest religious traditions and bringing about a firm cultural division within the community itself.

Jewish Salonika was torn by this rebellion and there is evidence that some in our Family were active on the Let's-all-break-away-from-tradition Team. After all, they left Salonika for Fresh Fields and Pastures New as long ago as 1901 with many of them becoming Masons and most speaking French.

So I hope you see, in summary, what a vast subject we have opened up for research, - so much more work to be done, - but it's a mitzvah to leave that challenge for some-one else to take up.
Feel free - I will always relate to what you say
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