Are there sources for the etymology of the surname Katz being an acronym for Kohen Tzedek?

Is that simply a backronym?

  • @ArielAllon, Welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for the interesting question!
    – Isaac Moses
    May 16, 2011 at 14:19
  • Good question; I would ask the same about other kohen acronymics, such as Pach (פיתוחי חותם) and Azulai (אשה זונה וחללה לא יקחו).
    – Avi
    May 16, 2011 at 14:45
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    Looks like @Yahu's comments on this thread are relavent and good sources of Katz as an acronym. May 16, 2011 at 16:01
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    How did you link that text?
    – WAF
    May 16, 2011 at 18:52
  • 2
    @WAF If you meant the text in Ariel's comment, click on the help icon under the "add comment" button. Basically use a format [link](http://example.com)
    – yydl
    May 16, 2011 at 21:18

4 Answers 4


There are many manuscripts and early printed seforim in which this name appears and there is a " in between the kof and tzadi. This clearly indicates that it is an acronym. One source is the seforim of the Shach, in which, although he is commonly (currently) known by the last name Katz, he is called "Kohein Tzedek. Then look here. Notice that only 9 years later Kohein Tzedek has become Katz. The Salonika print is in Tav Kuf Samech Alef (5561 or 1801) and the Lvov print is in Tav Kuf Ayin (5570 or 1810.)

[This answer is adapted from my comments on this answer to another question. Thank you Ariel for the easy link!]

  • Thanks @Yahu. So it looks we have good chronological evidence for an actual acronym here. It's interesting that the earliest example we have (thus far in this thread) is the early 19th century. I suppose the question now turns to the general history or surnames/family names which is likely outside of the scope of of this site.* * If there is some difference in the history of surnames as they pertain to Jews, though, it is definitely a topic for another thread. May 18, 2011 at 18:01
  • @ArielAllon If there is such a pattern I think this author would be either very interested to hear about it or have already disproved it.
    – WAF
    Jun 15, 2011 at 21:48

While Katz is likely an acronym for Kohen Tzedek, there is something else to keep in mind. Many names - especially those of immigrants - changed. This is especially true with immigrants to the US. This means that the name Katz could reasonably be a shortened version of something considerably longer, such as Katzenellenbogen, which is a place name (somewhere in Southern Germany near the Italian border). In that case, it has nothing to do with being a Kohen.

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    Sometimes, too, people get these names for no (seemingly) legitimate reason at all. I had some neighbors as a child whose last name was Cohen, but who were not kohanim (they spelled it in Hebrew with a ק, but I don't know whether that was the original spelling, or whether they deliberately altered it so as not to mislead others).
    – Alex
    May 17, 2011 at 13:59
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    @Alex, I know of occasions on which people took their mother's maiden names. (I think some Old World countries required it if the parents did not have a civil marriage.) That could explain some of the Cohens who are not kohanim.
    – msh210
    May 17, 2011 at 18:22

It would most likely be a backronym if all the Katz families were related. In fact there appear to be many distinct Katz families, and many (although not all) are cohanim, which implies that the name arose either independently or imitatively, perhaps at a time when Jews were obliged to take surnames by the secular authorities.

One interesting thing to note is that I have seen some records transcribe the letters כ"צ on a tombstone as if it were the name "Katz" - e.g., גרשן בן משה כ"צ becomes "Gershon ben Moshe Katz". If this occurred in secular records it would imply that some families may have adopted the surname Katz without really meaning to!


The Roshei Teivos of Cohen Tzedek is Kof Tzadi. My great grandfather was a Kohain and his last name was Kentof - which I was always told came from Kohain Tov.

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