Family surname changes SA #southafrica
Passenger lists were compiled by clerks >from details provided at the
time of purchase of the ticket. For people going onto S. Africa the
ticket could be paid for in New York, Paris, London, various
shtetlach, Vilna, Riga etc. This was through a series of agents e.g.
Knie and Co., and their sub-agents. The spelling of a name given say,
in Yiddish or Russian, to a ticket clerk writing a transliteration
could vary. In most families if you track the earliest use of a surname
it will change over the centuries.
As you know there was little pressure in S. Africa to anglicize
surnames (unlike the UK).
The names were given to the purser of the ship and the lists were
official, now located in National Archives Great Britain at Kew in
Passenger lists often have names crossed out or spelling changed in
minor ways. Carol Hoffman gave details of SA Jewish Rootsbank
For a more complete discussion see Jewish migration to South Africa.
The records of the Poor Jews' Temporary shelter. 1885-1914. eds.
Aubrey Newman, Nicholas J. Evans,J. Graham Smith and myself. Jewish
Publications South Africa, Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish
Studies and research, University of Cape Town, 2006. There are good
papers by Prof Newman and Nick Evans on the process of migration.
A recent mail >from JewishGen termed "MYTHBUSTERS", informs its members as
Myth #4: Our family surname changed at Ellis Island.
RESPONSE: No, it was not. Passenger lists were filled out at the port of
embarkation by clerks hired by the steamship lines, or by the ship's purser,
and then checked by U.S. customs or immigration authorities upon arrival.
Thus, the names on these passenger lists are the European, pre-Americanized
versions of names. No names were changed at Ellis Island.
Immigrants changed their own names afterwards, to more easily recognized
surnames, those which might match their already arrived relatives, or the
name of someone who sponsored them to come to America, or even a name with
perceived greater "yichus" or renown.
A common myth in my South African family is that their surname was changed
on arrival, about the turn of the century ca. 1900.
For example, PIL (pronounced piel, the Dutch/Afrikaans word for penis) was
changed to PERL to avoid embarrassment or worse. But PIL also changed to
BERMAN (buurman in Dutch/Afrikaans) and BERGER (burger or burgher in
Afrikaans/Dutch), in answer to questions about their status. So three PIL
brothers have different surnames. I have no official records of their name
I look forward to hearing whether the procedure described in the USA also
applies to SA.
If not, what the official procedure was on arrival in SA.
Thanks in advance, and my best wishes,