Thank you, Bob for injecting some sanity...In case it was not obvious, my original post stipulated from the outset that it was not a government official that changed anyone's name. What I am saying is that the stories are too widespread for all of them to be completely without some basis. The only other alternative is a widespread deliberate lie from parents to children. I am attempting to deconstruct the immigrant experience beyond their interaction with actual officials, to find out what might have led to stories of being instructed to use a different name. The example someone posted about being advised to change their name by people at their synagogue is a perfectly plausible example of a voluntary name change. However, it does not address the widespread incidence of stories that include the phrases "he asked my name" and "he wrote down_____". Since there is no evidence that the US government actually gave immigrants any documents to take with them, it was certainly not a government official who "wrote down" the new name.
Someone contacted me implying that it could not have been HIAS because HIAS did not establish an office at Ellis Island until 1905. Checking hias.org, I learned the following:
HIAS was established in 1881.
"HIAS established a bureau on Ellis Island in 1904 providing translation services, guiding immigrants through medical screenings, arguing before the Boards of Special Inquiry to prevent deportations, and obtaining bonds to guarantee employable status. We lent some the $25 landing fee and sold railroad tickets at reduced rates to those headed for other cities."
So, not only was HIAS operating during the entire period of name change stories, beginning in 1904, it seems like they were actually embedded in the immigration process inside the Ellis Island facility (as opposed to meeting people outside the hall, as I had imagined.) IF HIAS people were the ones who were telling immigrants to use a different name, and IF they were actually doing it inside the Great Hall, it is easy to see why an unsophisticated immigrant could mistakenly think that someone with authority was changing their name.
Again, these are only theories. I am not planting a stake and insisting this is what happened. Something in writing may yet surface where a volunteer recorded their role in these name changes, but so far, none are known. I think it is well established that no one with government authority changed anyone's name. But to simply fold one's arms and insist that every name change was done at the instigation of the immigrant does not pass the sniff test. Where there's smoke there's fire.