But as the families of the patriarchs swelled into tribes and at the same time began to move around more, patronymics or the names of fathers were used to identify who was meant. Thus, Moses anointed not any old Joshua to lead the Israelites into the land of Canaan but specifically Joshua ben Nun, Joshua the son of Nun.
The custom of using patronymics as surnames persisted in many cultures and is preserved in inherited family names today. In England, the descendants of the son of John might be known now as the Johnson family. In Ireland, Fitzgerald denotes the descendants of the son of Gerald. In Denmark, Sorensøns or Sorensens are descendants of the son of Soren.
Depending on the time and place, some patronymics, even when converted into inherited family names, kept the patterns of the original language. Thus, descendants of the son of a man named Moses (ben Moshe in Hebrew) are the family known as Benmoshe today. And another family descended from a forebear named Jacob are now called Jacobson. And the descendants of the son of Zion (Ben Zion) are proudly called Benzion! Some of my relatives now write the name as Benson, perhaps tired of helping people learn how to pronounce. I cringe at that change, fearing that soon no one shall know the names of the great man for whom the clan was named!
The picture is of Rabbi Chaim Ben-Zion Raskin, a Lubavitcher rabbi, born in 1864 in Belarus. He was devout and also veryprolific as were his descendants. Recently, it was discovered that 10% of the students at one seminary in Kiryat Gat in Israel were descendants of this man. A relative of mine? Perhaps, but the convoluted trails of families dispersed throughout a hostile world fleeing from oppression or seeking economic opportunities, often make a definitive answer impossible.