Tuesday, January 03, 2006

My Surname

My whole life has been a process of trying to discover the meaning and history behind my names.

When my great-grandfather's brother immigrated to the United States in 1890 he changed his surname. My great-grandfather followed him eight years later and changed his surname to the one his older brother selected.

While both Asher and a great aunt in Baltimore told me that a non-Jewish customs official at the port of New York changed the family name, I know that the idea of forced name change at Ellis Island is myth.

So why did my family adopt this surname upon immigration? Why did they change their Jewish surname to a more recognizably Jewish surname?

I have always been interested in this question since my middle name is also a surname; the surname our family had in the shtetl. In an attempt to keep the memory of the original surname name alive, my great-grandfather gave this surname to my grandfather as a middle name. My grandfather then gave it to my father, my father gave it to me, and I gave it to my son.

After years of research, I understand the history behind my middle name. The history behind my surname continues to allude me.


At January 3, 2006 at 7:32:00 AM EST, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

I had also been told that my last name had been changed completely when my great-grandfather arrived at Ellis Island - only to find that a variation of the name was listed on his arrival records. There is no one alive who can clear up the mystery for me, and I am left to wonder how and why the story of the name change originated - and if there even was a change at all....

At January 3, 2006 at 7:46:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Looks like we are in the same boat, MCAryeh.

At January 3, 2006 at 9:09:00 AM EST, Blogger torontopearl said...

Aww, just accept the name and consider yourself a "Ba'al Shem Tov"!

At January 3, 2006 at 9:17:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Good answer, Pearl! :)

I am still curious to find out the real reason.

At January 3, 2006 at 11:27:00 PM EST, Blogger e-kvetcher said...

So, is your middle name a nice, juicy, long Ukranian name or something boring like Katz or Cohen :) ?

At January 4, 2006 at 6:28:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

It is a Yiddish name with a ches in the middle.

At January 5, 2006 at 4:21:00 PM EST, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I've been meaning to write something up about my own search for the origin of my (fairly non-Jewish-sounding) surname.

Unfortunately, the people who would have known the origin are dead, and the ones that remain are of no help. The database at Ellis Island is interesting, and I have found many Jews with my surname, but I'm not related to any of them.

More interestingly, it turns out my daughter Fudge is dorming in Manhattan about a block away from two other people with the same last name, and I've found out that we are not so distant cousins.

At January 6, 2006 at 6:43:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

PT: I hope you do write something. I look forward to reading it.


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