The surname MELCHIOR was of Danish and German origin; from the male given name MELCHIOR (apparently ultimately derived from the Hebrew MELECH (king) + OR (light and splendour). The name was ascribed by popular Christian tradition to one of the Magi. The surname is also borne by Ashkenazic Jews. The name has numerous variant spellings which include MELCHIORR, CHIORRI, MARCHIOR and MELISEK. The practice of adopting surnames spread to Denmark and Norway from Germany, during the late Middle Ages, but until the 19th century, they were neither fixed nor universal. The Danish state has in recent years been encouraging the adoption of a wider range of surnames. When traditional Jews were forced to take family names by the local bureaucracy, it was an obligation imposed from outside traditional society, and people often took the names playfully and let their imaginations run wild by choosing names which corresponded to nothing real in their world. No one alive today can remember the times when Jews took or were given family names (for most Ashkenazim this was the end of the 18th century or the beginning of the 19th) although many remember names being changed after emigration to other countries, such as the United States and Israel in recent years.
A notable member of the name was Lautitz Lebrecht Hommel MELCHIOR (1890-1973) the Danish-born American tenor, born in Copenhagen. His career began as a baritone (in Pagliacci, 1913). From 1918 he appeared as a tenor, making his Covent Garden debut in 1924. One of the foremost Wagnerian singers of the century, he sang at Bayreuth (1924-31) and regularly at the New York Metropolitian (1926-50). He became a US citizen in 1947 and retired to California. Over the centuries, most people in Europe have accepted their surname as a fact of life, as irrevocable as an act of God. However much the individual may have liked or disliked the surname, they were stuck with it, and people rarely changed them by personal choice. A more common form of variation was in fact involuntary, when an official change was made, in other words, a clerical error.
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