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

Joel Weintraub

Bob, you are getting hung up on the manifest and any variations of immigrant names on it.  That to me is not what the Ellis Island Name Change Belief is really about. I look at it as: the immigrant comes to Ellis Island with one family name, and because of intentional or unintentional decisions by the authorities at the Immigration Station, including an effort to Americanize immigrant  names or a level of miscommunication or insensitivity by the Inspectors, leaves Ellis Island with a very different (legal) surname which may have no correlation with the original name, and immediately uses that name in the United States.  So we get stories that Leib Nochomovsky is told by inspectors at Ellis Island that Jews in the U.S. are either Levine or Cohen, and he comes out Louis Levine.  Or Walachinsky at Ellis Island is told he is an American now, and his name is halved by the inspector to Wallace.  These sorts of stories imply or state that the U.S. authorities are writing the name down.  Down on what?  So they mispronounce the immigrants name.... does that translate to some official name change document the immigrant gets?   With my New York accent, I must have changed a lot of my students (and others)  names, right?   But let’s take an extreme made-up  hypothetical case and ask who has in the eyes of the law changed the name.   Say one of the Immigration inspectors is a practical joker and changes one immigrant’s name a day.  Nothing is written down.  No paperwork is given the immigrant that his name is changed.  The immigrant  goes into the U.S. and immediately lives for a number of years with the new name.  Most states have laws that state if you use a surname for a period of  time, it’s your name unless you were committing fraud (try to do that today to get a driver’s license!).  So who changed legally the name of this hapless immigrant.... the joker at Ellis Island or the immigrant?  It was the action of the immigrant that legally changed his name, not the inspector who had no legal powers to do so.  The immigrant’s  impressions of what happened at Ellis Island wouldn’t count in a court of law, would it?   It often boils down to how broad a definition you have about what it means to change a name, and just semantics.  I and I think most genealogists (but not all) have a narrow definition of the name change legend, which started decades after the heyday of Ellis Island. 
Joel Weintraub

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Joel Weintraub
Dana Point, CA

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