Is a Name Change Identity Fraud?

By Wendy Belzberg

Published April 11, 2003, issue of April 11, 2003.
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I never gave serious thought to changing my last name (it’s about as Jewish as you can get) until I realized how pervasive antisemitism has become. I am in my 50s and beyond the age where it might matter, but my daughters are in their early teens and will soon be applying to college and then entering the work force. I am thinking about modifying my children’s last name. Many of our ancestors did. What do you think?

— Identity fraud?

Many of our ancestors did indeed change their names. In an effort to assimilate, to be accepted in “polite” company, many sacrificed their names, their heritage and their pride. In short, they sacrificed not just their integrity, but their true identities; they woke up each morning to live a lie.

I don’t know if there is more antisemitism in the air, but I do think people are less reluctant to voice it. Your concern for your daughters is legitimate. But you may want to reflect on whether you want to let antisemitism get the upper hand. Is your goal in changing your daughters’ names to counsel them to “pass”? Should they deny their Jewish roots when asked about their religious and cultural affiliation? If so, by all means make the modification in their name. While you are at it, consult a plastic surgeon about modifying any Semitic features your daughters possess that might “give them away.” Because once you take the first step to hiding your true identity, there is no end to the lying, deceit and self-denial. Surely there is a more constructive — as opposed to reconstructive — alternative.

* * *

My husband and I have been happily married for two years. Before we got married he agreed to have his vasectomy reversed. He now claims to have no recollection of that promise. He is not at all prone to lying, and I almost believe him. Unfortunately, I desperately want children. He is quite a bit older than I, so time is of the essence. He likes other people’s children and is a kind, loving and attentive husband. I think he would make an excellent father, but he insists parenthood isn’t for him.

— Selective memory

Sounds to me like the old bait-and-switch routine. You are being far too kind (read naïve) to accept your husband’s amnesia plea. I could accept different recollections about any number of things: your favorite breakfast food, turtles or puppies for pets, what kind of car to buy or even your willingness to move to a foreign country. But to have children or not is not one of them. Ask yourself this question: Would you have married this man if he had told you up front that he did not want children? If the answer is yes, then you will find a way to live with your husband’s selective recall. If not, perhaps you can refresh his memory with an ultimaturm: no reversal, no marriage. There is still no guarantee that your husband’s reversal will take and that he will be able to father children. But at least you will know you tried. Sacrificing your desire for children on someone else’s account is no recipe for a long and happy marriage. You will only resent your husband and regret the decision for the rest of your life.

* * *

I was amused to read the question from your reader who said her parents asked her to buy them a luxury condo and she turned them down. My situation is the opposite: My younger daughter and son-in-law offered to give me the down payment on a condo in my hometown with the stipulation that their names also be put on the certificate of title. I would pay the mortgage payments, condo fees, taxes and upkeep. I turned their generous offer down. They now think I am stubborn and ungrateful.

— Deeds and intentions

Your children get credit for trying, and also for providing an instructive lesson in how to exploit aging parents. Any child about to propose a financial or business plan to his or her parents should consider the following: avoid a proposal that any 10-year-old would find inequitable. Clearly you are not yet senile and your children do not have the courtesy to wait until you are. I do not begrudge your children for asking. But I do object to the indirect and disingenuous form their offer took. Let them think what they want. You are right, and they are both wrong and manipulative.

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