History of the Mokotoff (Mokotów) Family

The Mokotoff family had a beginning—no, not with Adam and Eve—but a beginning that occurred not much more than 200 years ago. Prior to the start of the 19th century, almost all of the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe did not have hereditary surnames (family names). There is nothing in Jewish culture that requires surnames; in fact, in the Jewish religion, you are known only by your given name followed by son/daughter of your father’s given name (example: Yosef ben Moshe, Sarah Malka bat Moshe).

At the beginning of the 19th century, the three great superpowers of the day
Russian Empire, German Empire and Austro-Hungarian Empire—required that Jews acquire hereditary surnames. Our common ancestor, born Tuvia ben Moshe, took the surname Mokotów about 1804. He lived in Warka, Poland, a town about 50km (30 miles) south of Warsaw, which then was part of the Russian Empire. At that time, there was a small village called Mokotów just south of Warsaw. Many Jews took hereditary surnames that were town names because they had an association with the town. There is no evidence that Tuvia, or his ancestors, had anything to do with the village of Mokotów. Instead, family legend, related to me by Zvi Kitov z”l of Jerusalem, was that Tuvia liked the name of the town because his given name, Tuvia, in Hebrew means “For God is good,” and Mokotów is phonetically similar to the Hebrew words m’ki tov (for the good of God).

As Warsaw grew, it eventually absorbed the village of Mokotów. In 1916 it was incorporated into the city. Today it is the southern section of Warsaw. The area includes largest shopping center in Poland: Mokotów Galeria.

So Tuvia David ben Moshe—Tobiasz Dawid Moszkowicz, in Polish—became Tobiasz Dawid Mokotów, and all his male descendants inherited the surname. What about Tuvia’s father? His name was Moshe ben Aron, in Polish, Moszek Aronowicz. How do I know? Because I have his death certificate. He died in Warka in July 1810 at the age of 83. He never took a surname because he was quite elderly when the surname edict occurred. So we are capable of tracing our family back to 1727 to the birth of Moszek Aronowicz, and, if his father was at least 27 years old when he was born, then Aron ben (?) was born in the 1600s and we have traced the family back to the 17th century.

Tuvia was born about 1774. There was no recording of births at that time—this did not start in Warka until 1806. His estimated birth year is based on the birth and marriage records of his children which list his age at the time of the event. He was married twice. First to Tauba Moszkowicz. She died about 1811 after producing four children. His second marriage was to Sarah Israelowny. She produced 13 children; 10 of whom survived infancy.

Why Mokotow, Mokotov, Mokotoff, Mokotowski?
The Polish word “Mokotów” is pronounced Muh-KUH-tuf in Polish. As members of the family migrated to different countries, in order to keep the same sound, they changed the spelling. The spelling “Mokotoff” is used in virtually all countries outside of Poland. In Israel it is spelled מוקוטוב (Mokotov). Properly we should all be called Mokotowski. It is unusual for a surname to be an exact town name. A toponymic surname (name based on a geographic name) usually is of the form “from the town of
.” In Slavic languages “from the town of” is represented by the suffix –ski. Mokotowski means “from the town of Mokotów.” The surname Mokotowski was probably created by Christian locals who found the name Mokotow strange because it was a pure town name familiar to them, so they added the –ski ending to make the surname more proper according to Polish naming traditions.

Are/Were There Famous Mokotows?
The only 
Mokotów of international renown is Eliyahu Kitov (1912–1956), the author of numerous books about Jewish customs. His most famous work was Sefer HaTodaah (Book of Our Heritage), a three-volume work that explains all the traditions of all the Jewish holidays. I have read it and it is fascinating. Rabbi Kitov was born Abraham Eliyahu Mokotów in Josefów nad Wisła, Poland. Many biographies claim his name was Mokotowski, but I have a number of records created by him (passport, ship’s manifest) and in every case he gave his name as Mokotów. A more detailed biography is located on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliyahu_Kitov. His descendants live mostly in Jerusalem. A daughter of his, Naama Kitov Nothmann (sometimes spelled Nothman), is a recognized artist. You can see her works at her website http://www.naamanothmann.co.za.

Warka, Poland
The ancestral town of the Mokotow family is Warka, Poland, a town about 30 miles (50 km) south of Warsaw. Its claim to fame today is that it is the home of a brewery that makes “Warka Beer.” The only famous person born there was Kazamierz Pułaski, a military officer who fought for the colonials in the American Revolution and died at the Battle of Savannah (Georgia). He was born in Warka and the town has a museum in his honor. Pictures of the town taken in my 1997 visit are at http://www.avotaynu.com/mokotow/warka.html.

Links
Death certiciate of Moszek Aronowicz, father of Tuvia David Mokotow
First four generations of the Mokotow family tree
Map or area where Mokotows lived in Poland

How to search the Mokotow family tree (Recommended for first-time users)
Mokotow family tree (password protected)