The meaning of names among Mediterranean Jews

Marc Eliany ©

ABÉCASSIS, Abucassis, Abiksis
Cassis in France
Cazes and AbenGacez in Spain.

ABÉCASSIS in French spelling, may appear in different forms, i.e., Abucassis, abiksis, Cassis in France or Cazes and AbenGacez in Spain.

Prefixes such as (aben, iben, abi, avi, ben, bin, abou) denotes usually a relation to a person, i.e., the father of or the son of  X, a place, i.e., a person from Cassis, a profession, i.e., Kassas or story teller in Arabic or chopper in Hebrew.

In the Arab tradition, the prefix Abu means usually the father of Cassis, or a tribal affiliation, i.e., a relation to the Moroccan tribe of bnei Ksis. Jews in Morocco often were assigned the name of the tribe that offered them protection.  The word ‘kassas’ in Arabic means storyteller. In Algeria, community leaders and rabbis were given the title ‘Cassis’ which may denote in Arabic ‘elder.’

In the Hebrew tradition, the prefix ‘Avi ‘ denotes patrilineal ancestry, i.e., son of Cassis or a relation to a place of origin, i.e., Cassis, a region allocated to the tribe of Benjamin. Jews settled in Morocco before the arrival of the Arabs to North Western Africa and the tribe Bnei Cassis was a Jewish tribe before it adopted Islam. The tribe may have been related to the tribe of Benjamin and the region of Cassis in ancient Israel. The root ‘kss’ means chopper in Hebrew and may denote a trade of the people named Cassis. May also be of the tribe of Banu Alqassis in Yatrel, in Saudi Arabia.

Cassis is a town in Southern France. The title ‘Cassis’ may denotes also ‘priest’ among early Christians in North Africa.
Caces is a town in the province of Oviedo in Spain. The name Cazes is common among Jews of Spanish ancestry around the Mediteranean (see examples below).

The name is common among both Jews, Berbers and Arabs in North Africa but not as frequent among Christians in France. See for example

ABÉCASSIS Raphaël (1953-). Morocco. Painter of the stained glass at Tiféret Israël in Los Angeles.
ABÉCASSIS Éliette (XXes.). France. Author of Qumran et L’or et la cendre

ABÉCASSIS-OBADIAH Marie (XXes.). Morocco. (lives in Quebec) Author of  Tanger, les miens et les autres.
ABÉCASSIS Messod (XIXes.). Morocco.  Community leader in Tangier.
ABÉCASSIS Salomon (XIXes.). Morocco. Community leader in London, England.
ABÉCASSIS Armand (1933-). Morocco. Author, philosopher, psychologist, Bordeaux. France.
ABÉCASSIS Simon (XIXe-XXes.). Morocco. Rabbi of Mogador
ABÉCASSIS Yéhoudah (XXes.). Morocco. Rabbi of Tétouan.

CAZÈS David (1851-1913). Morocco. Tétouan. Author. Historian. Established Jewish schools in Tunisia, Turkey and Argentina.
CAZÈS-BENATTAR Hélène (1900-?). Morocco. Tangier. Lawyer. Led the Joint assistance to WWII refugees in Morocco.


Azoulay, Hayim Yossef Shem Hagdolim (the names of the great)

AZOULAY Haïm Yossef David (Hida) (1724-1807) Chém haguédolim va’ad lahakhamim (The names of the Great Council of Sages).

Toledano, J. 1983        La saga des familles, Les juifs du Maroc et leurs noms, Editions Stavit, Tel Aviv

Levi, J et. al. 2000        Dictionnaire biographique du monde Juif Sepharade et Mediteranean, Editions Elysee, Montreal.

Laredo A. 1978           Les noms des juifs au Maroc