Aprenent català

Studying Catalan

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A dig into Jewish history brought up an interesting, but confusing Catalan connection.

Nahmanides is one of the best known medieval rabbis. In Hebrew he is usually called Ramban (רמב”ן), an acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman – Moses, son of Nahman. Apparently he was born in Girona, hence “Gerondi” is sometimes added to the name above. So far, so good.

Apparently he has another name and that’s where it becomes confusing. I am not sure whether to call this name Latin, Spanish or Catalan, so i’ll just say “foreign”. This name has two parts. The first is easy – it’s something like Bonastruc, which i also saw spelled as Bonastrug, but that’s understandable. The second part is the toughest. It is given in various sources as one of those:

  1. Bonastruc ça Porta – Catalan Wikipedia and some Google results
  2. Bonastruc de Porta – Gran Enciclopèdia Catalana online. It doesn’t mention the “ça” spelling in the article about Ramban himself, but it does have an article about Centre Bonastruc Ça Porta, an institution in Girona dedicated to Jewish history, which means that the Catalan Wikipedia spelling is more than just a typo or a random whimsy of someone who likes weird medieval spellings.
  3. da Porta – JewishEncyclopedia.com article about Ramban doesn’t mention the Bonastruc name, but it does say that he was a brother of Benveniste da Porta.

Another proof that “ça” may have real meaning is the big Diccionari Català-Valencià-Balear, which says that it’s a variant of the feminine article “sa” (nowadays sometimes used as the Balearic version of “la”) and gives a couple of examples which look like personal names.

But the plot thickens even further. Ariel, my Catalan “mentor” on Twitter, says – if i understood him correctly – that it should actually be spelled Saporta, and that it is related to the last name Sasportas, which some people in Israel have today. JewishEncyclopedia.com has an article about the Sasportas family, which says that it comes from the Spanish “seis portas” – “six gates”, but it also says that “Aaron Sasportas, the earliest known member of this family, was a descendant in the tenth generation of Nahmanides”.

So – can anyone point me to reliable sources that may help me solve this mistery? Or are those just two versions which are equally possible?


Written by aharoni

April 2, 2008 at 14:08