Re: "His name was changed at Ellis Island" #names

Jules Levin

I will answer Yale point by point:

On 6/26/2020 8:24 AM, YaleZuss via wrote:
I am fascinated by the assumption in many of these responses that I
haven't done my homework.  No-one, including in a flurry of personal
contacts, has mentioned an item that I hadn't seen already in my
study.  I read each of them and then back-checked it; how many of you
who cite these items have done so?
Jules, have you ever actually bothered to look at the data or think
about your claims? Do you know anyone who can speak 40 languages? 
Does any of them work for the amount paid the immigration inspectors?
Has it ever occurred to you that there might be errors in government
This second paragraph is ironic coming after your affirmation of your
careful reading.  I think almost everyone understood that I did not say
there was someone there who spoke 40 languages.  An averagely careful
reader understood correctly that among the many immigration inspectors
over 40 languages were spoken.  Someone in this discussion who has also
studied the issue claims many more than 40.  This is not surprising,
since I think that America was a more polyglot country in the 19th
Century than now--but this is a different issue.

I also have the impression that one of the beliefs underlying the "meme"
is a middle-class urban Jewish attitude vis-a-vis the presumed
native-born Wasps from the sticks who they assume were the officials
engaged in silly frivolous name changes.  Consider this as a factor.

Another factor I hope you will explore is /cui bono/, which Russians
especially like (komy pol'za)--who benefits?  Why did these frazzled
hungry (to go home to dine) officials stand to gain by arbitrarily
changing names?  And what did the second generation immigrants gain by
telling their 3rd gen children "it was changed at Ellis Island..."   I
think the 2nd question is easier to answer.  It was embarrassing to tell
their children that their grandparents wanted to seem less "Jewish",
more American.  Clearly the officials had nothing to gain by deviating
from procedures.

I started my study looking for the reasoning behind the meme, not to
reject it, but as one claim after another proved to be wrong, based on
faulty logic, or on methodological errors, I started wondering how it
came about.  Then I heard from the USCIS Historians' Office that they
didn't know where the meme came from.  I'm still working on that.

Unless there is an actual proof that involuntary name-changes weren't
possible, you cannot reject the name-change narratives out of hand. 
Given the number of potential cases, around 37 million, and what is
known about the operation of the immigration stations (it's discussed
in the Congressional Record), the notion that involuntary name-changes
were impossible because the immigration process operated flawlessly is
simply absurd.
The immigration process did not have to operate flawlessly to guard
against involuntary name changing.  This is a red herring. Are migrants
today having their names changed by gov officials when they enter the
country?  Of course not, but no one would claim the current system
operates flawlessly.

Let me propose a way of teasing out factors within the Jewish community
that might explain what was going on--why some Horowitzes changed the
name, and others did not.  {sidebar: Yiddish joke I heard from my
father--remember Sadie Horowitz from the old neighborhood.  When she
came to America she changed her name.  In the old country it was
Kurvawitz.}  Here's my idea: find 100 families with no name change, and
100 that did.  Makr economic, social, and religious tradition profiles
on each 3 or 4 generational family.  I predict that the name-changers
would be more socially mobile, less religious, more exogamous, etc.,
etc. None of these differences could have influenced immigration officials.

Good luck with your research,

Jules Levin

--Yale Zussman

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