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Thursday, December 18, 2014

How Jewish Kevin Youkilis got a Greek last name

Kevin Youkilis has agreed to sign with the Yankees, which predictably has New York’s large Jewish population pretty excited.

Youk, who spent his entire career with the Boston Red Sox until being traded to the Chicago White Sox last season, grew up in Cincinnati and is from a Jewish family. He had a Bar Mitzvah, and his father says the ballplayer can even read Hebrew.

So how did his family end up with a Greek last name? Youkilis’ father, Mike, shared the story with The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir.

“There are so many stories in the family,” Mike Youkilis, Kevin’s father, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “But we’ve agreed on one.”

In that story, there was, sometime in the 1800s, a teenager with the last name Weiner, who is believed to have been Kevin Youkilis’s great-great-great-great-grandfather — give or take a great — and who lived in what is now Romania. Fearing the Cossacks, who were no friends of the Jews, and of being drafted at age 16 into the army, he fled to Greece.

“Apparently, there was a family friend there with a name like Youkilis,” Mike Youkilis said. “A couple of years later, he got homesick, and when he decided to go home, he couldn’t come back with the name Weiner or he’d be thrown in jail. So he took the Greek name. He met a lady and they married in Romania and started to have kids. And we kept the name.”

Even though confusion ensued because many people thought they were Greek, nobody in the Youkilis family considered changing the name back to Weiner (can you imagine the torment growing up with that last name?). Cool story, right? I’m sure many families, including mine, can relate.

My father’s family came from Germany, and they had a much longer, German-sounding last name. When they arrived in New York, the name was simplified and Anglicized to Brown.

But make no mistake about it: Even though Youkilis has a Greek last name, he is proud of his Jewish heritage.

Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE



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