To Shira: I had a question about choosing surnames for Jewish characters - I know that certain surnames are tied to very specific people/families, rather than being like Smith or Jones. Do you have any advice for making sure my characters have family names that actually fit their backgrounds without inadvertently making it weird for anyone? Basically, I want to know how to check the cultural implications of choosing a given family name for a character. Thanks!
You might be overthinking this because our last names don’t necessarily mean THAT much more about our backgrounds than gentiles’. Unless you’re talking about the original way we used to name ourselves i.e. so and so bat Father'sName. Or Ben Fathersname. (i.e. Daughter of, or Son of.)
But if you do want to read more about Jewish surnames, this article is a good starting place.
Other than that, Google is your friend. I’d make sure there are existing Jews from the specific background of your characters before settling on a name. For example, “Hey, I want to write a character who’s Ashkenazi. Can I use Bernstein as a last name?” Lo and behold we have Leonard Bernstein. (Fun fact nobody asked for: his last name means “amber” in German! But his father, from where the name comes, was from a city that was in Poland at the time but is now in Ukraine.)
If I’m not answering your question, feel free to clarify, but other than researching the geographical origins of a name and making sure it’s a name real Jews have used either today or in history, I’m not sure what other answers are there.
In other words, look over the names of historical figures or living Jews from the same background as your characters, then use Google to research the geographical origins of those names. Try to stick to people whose names are from Jewish relatives i.e. Harrison Ford’s last name comes from his Catholic father, not his Jewish mother, whose last name was Nidelman. And yes, there are Jews who have no Christian relatives who have WASP-sounding last names, because sometimes people changed their names to pass so they could have better employment prospects. I guess if your character has a name like that and isn’t from a family that converted into Judaism, that’s one of those “implications” you were asking about – the implication that Green used to be Greenberg or whatever.