The Schmooze

Naming Names

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Who among us doesn’t have a relative whose name was changed at Ellis Island?

Rare, indeed, is the American Jew whose surname is the same as that of his or her European and Israeli cousins. Normative rather than exceptional, the immigrant’s acquisition of a new name seems to be as American a phenomenon as, well, apple pie.

But now, in an article published by Dara Horn in Azure magazine, we’re told that the changing-of-the-name is itself a bube mayse, an urban legend, a fabrication of the immigrant mind. It simply didn’t happen, or, if it did, these flights of onomastic invention took place well before Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe even came to the New World. By Horn’s lights, name change had little, if anything, to do with tone deaf inspectors at Ellis Island.

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Naming Names

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