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


This became oddly contentious.

Like many others, I'd heard to stories about Ellis Island name changes and later learned that this would not have happened. My own tree shows numerous name changes, both in Europe and in the USA. In some cases, this came down to differing opinions about how to transliterate a Russian or Yiddish name or even a shift from a Romanian to a Yiddish variant of the same name. A couple of times, it looks like whoever wrote the name down in Europe misheard the name entirely. Usually, it was a matter of simple desire to assimilate.

So, for example, Talpalariu became Feller (Romanian and Yiddish for the same profession). Leibovici became Leibowtiz and, later, Lee (Romanian to Yiddish to Anglicized). Itrov was misspelled as Eatroff in the US and we stuck with it. Wittrof ended up on a a passenger manifest, but was so wildly off, it never appeared on another document. Faivush became Philip and Mikael became Max to sound more "American." All of those sorts of changes are extremely commonplace.

The most amusing story about assigning surnames in my family was a tall tale from the mid-19th century when the Austro-Hungarian Empire decided Jews should have surnames. Usually, those names would be based on an occupation or patronymic or a location, but one of my ancestors was said to have been so amused by the "ridiculous" names people took, he laughed out loud and an official saddled him with the name Lacher, meaning "laugher." That's too good to be true, but it's more fun than "they changed it at Ellis Island."

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