10 June 2017


Over the years, in books I've read especially, I've come across negative commentary by various authors who are finding fault with people's name changes.  Its their way of insinuating negative things about other's personality, character, or psychology, and that makes me mad.  It's most often unfair.  When I come across that kind of criticism in a biography, I wonder how much I should believe that the author wrote.

Many people are not comfortable with the name they were given at birth and many people have felt compelled to change their surname due to the prejudices they've experienced - or just because they feel like it.  Take for instance the children of hippies who were, as a friend's son was, given a long Native American name when they were Jewish!  (He changed his name in college.)

It seems to me that drastic name changes that individuals or their Hollywood studios, managers, or agents, demanded are understood or forgiven as the means to celebrity and career success.  (i.e. Norma Jeanne Baker became Marilyn Monroe.)  But oh if a common person adds a letter, gets rid of the son, ski, sky, szke, or some other suffix, or gives a name a twist or a twirl to do so.  Sometimes this change is to make a name difficult to pronounce in English easier on other people.

I've talked about the Ellis Island name change as a myth at least once on this blog, but I've met a lot of people who claim that is where a drastic name change occurred.  Maybe that's even what their immigrant ancestor claimed, but more than likely, if the name change was drastic, then the person probably decided that to completely start anew they might as well.

Some immigrants came from places were surnames were fairly recent, where family members were not unified in what they wanted the family surname to be, or they had a Jewish name and an American name.  (Their documents from the old country would be more revealing.  Did they get on the boat with the same name they got off with?  Did they apply for citizenship with the name they used on the boat? Did they appear on a census in the Old Country with that name?  What does it say on birth certificates?)

Many ethnic groups had a very hard time getting viable work and income, and found that when they were out of work employers didn't even call them in for interviews - until they changed their names.  This has been true for decades.  In my time one family I know changed their five syllable Italian name, which actually was quite musical to the ear pronounced correctly, to the father's first name (i.e. Robert Roberts) and his whole career changed.  Another family had a German name that sounded like a sex act and their children were being teased on the playground.  Let's just say they changed their surname to Fox, and their pubescent daughter stopped getting harassed.  If a child is being bullied, maybe it's time for a name change.

Other people have discovered their ethnic heritage roots in adulthood and discovered that their surname has been slightly misspelled all along and go back to the original spelling.

(to be continued)

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