When Can Immigrants Change Name? #general


Mara Fein <maraharv@...>
 

I have read many times that immigrants names were not changed at Ellis
Island. However, I would like to see more of a discussion about changing
names. I have a grandparent who, it is said changed his name after he left
Russia in 1901. But when could that have occurred?

As I understand it, you need to "register" to leave your town (and that
records exist documenting this), and I would assume to do that you had to
use your real name.

Once you got to the ship you were taking, did you have to show papers that
proved that the name you provided was your real name or could you give a
false name at this point?

Once you were in the country, could you just start using another name at the
turn of the 20th century?

Bottom line, for those of us who wish to find our ancestors in the Old
Country, how can we connect to the old name?

Mara Fein
Los Angeles
maraharv@msn.com

Researching surnames: GORDON (Kharkov), GOODER (Kharkov, Kiev), FRIEDMAN
(Lithuania), BRAUNHOLTZ (Lithuania), HECHT (Galicia), WEINSTEIN (Austria),
GOLDMAN (Russia), KNOBLER (Austria), GLASSBERG, KLUBKNICK


Joshua Levy <joshualevy@...>
 

--- Mara Fein < maraharv@msn.com> wrote:
Bottom line, for those of us who wish to find our ancestors in the
Old Country, how can we connect to the old name?
For my family, immigration and naturalization paperwork
contained the old family names. My relatives generally
changed their names when they made the court appearence
to become naturalized citizens. So at the bottom of their
court papers, there would be a little note that the court
also approved changing their names. The paperwork associated
with entering the country would have the original names from
the old country.

Joshua Levy
Researching surnames:
LEVY in San Jose, CA 1850s >from Baveria
FRANK in Albany, NY 1840s
HYMAN in San Francisco, CA 1870s

=====
Joshua Levy < joshualevy@yahoo.com >
Note: I'm having spam problems at my joshualevy@yahoo.com
address, so if that emailbox is full, try joshualevy2@hotmail.com.


Tom Chatt
 

In the case of my own great-grandparents, whose surname was BRAUTMAN, they
just simply started using the name BRANTMAN instead over time. I suppose
they thought it was easier to pronounce. They did not take any formal action
to change their name, they just started using it, many years after having
been naturalized. There didn't seem to be any specific moment in time when
they made a definitive change, but more like a period of many years when
they were "in transition", BRAUTMAN in some situations and BRANTMAN others.
You could see the change over the years in the New York City Directory, and
there was even a few years when they were listed under both variants. By the
end of their lives, the change had pretty much taken hold, and it certainly
had for the next generation. Even my great-grandmother's official death
certificate is indexed both ways.

I suspect mine was not the only family who changed their name in this casual
manner. It sounds like there were a variety of ways and times and
circumstances that families changed their name, and not any one general
rule. Makes our jobs as genealogists a bit harder, but the challenge is part
of the fun, isn't it?

Shana tova l'kol,
Tom Chatt
Los Angeles, CA


Leslie Weinberg <artsoul@...>
 

Very difficult to trace names. As far as I know, my grandparents did not have to
show anything with their names. I know that my grandfather came here as "Markus"
and changed his name to Max. My grandmother was "Adeline" and changed it to
Adele. Neither did this in any legal way, they just started using the names. My
other grandfather and his brothers came here as last name "Danskoy" and when one
of the brothers got married, they decided they didn't like the name, and they all
changed it to Dann. They all "Americanized" their first names - Mordsche became
Max, etc, and this, I know, was never done through legal channels. This was many
years after they arrived, and I do not know whether there was any legal paperwork
involved in the last name change.
Leslie Weinberg

Mara Fein wrote:

Once you were in the country, could you just start using another name at
the turn of the 20th century?

Bottom line, for those of us who wish to find our ancestors in the Old
Country, how can we connect to the old name?


Linda Altman <altmanlh@...>
 

I have read many times that immigrants names were not changed at Ellis Island.
However, I would like to see more of a discussion about changing names. I have
a grandparent who, it is said changed his name after he left Russia in 1901.
But when could that have occurred?
Anytime after he left Russia

As I understand it, you need to "register" to leave your town (and that records
exist documenting this), and I would assume to do that you had to use your real
name.
I had a relative Abe Loewenthal, who deserted the Russian army in 1905. He did not
register with anyone, he just left in a hurry.

Once you got to the ship you were taking, did you have to show papers that
proved that the name you provided was your real name or could you give a false
name at this point?
I think it was way easier back then to use a fake name or falsified papers. You
had to be the person on the ticket, but it appears that they were not all that
particular about proving who you were. They were more concerned about infectious
diseases and having you refused entry into the US as the shipping companies were
responsible for the return voyage.

Once you were in the country, could you just start using another name at the
turn of the 20th century?
Sure could. No Social Security Cards etc. One of my families surname was Cybula
and Cybulac in Poland. It became Smith in NY by most of them except for Harry. He
kept it as Cibula. The other side of my family Doherty is spelled as Doherty,
Doughtery, and O'Doherty. The O' Doherty was not allowed in Ireland at the time
(English rule prohibited the use of the O').

Bottom line, for those of us who wish to find our ancestors in the Old Country,
how can we connect to the old name?
Find everything you can about them here in the US. Find them, find their friends,
aquaintences, other relatives, spouses, witnesses to marriages etc. Document them
until there are no more documents to find. You will come across the surname
eventually. For me, it was the connection of being told that the surname was a
loose translation of the Polish word for onion. So I went to a Polish dictionary
to lookup how onion was spelled in Polish. Hit paydirt shortly after that.

Linda Altman


Judith Romney Wegner
 

Tom Chatt wrote:

In the case of my own great-grandparents, whose surname was BRAUTMAN, they just
simply started using the name BRANTMAN instead over time. I suppose they thought
it was easier to pronounce.
Dear Tom,

The motivation for this particular name change is self-evident -- and typical of
the linguistic process by which such surname changes occurred. I would guess that
it was the line of least resistance and probably occurred as follows:

English-speaking readers of the unfamiliar German name BRAUTMAN -- especially if
encountered in handwriting -- are virtually certain to misread it as BRANTMAN for
two reasons: (l) in the English language the combination "ANT" is far more
frequent than the combination "AUT" (especially in the middle of a word) and (2)
the handwritten letters "n" and "u" are easily confused. (We've all that that
experience when trying to read surnames on handwritten census forms!)

My guess is that officials and other strangers were constantly addressing them as
Brantman, and in the end they just gave up and adopted it as the line of least
resistance.

So now, Tom, I am wondering whether your own surname CHATT was originally CHAIT
(which is far more common among Jews and would illustrate exactly the same
linguistic process).

Judith Romney Wegner
jrw@brown.edu


Barbara Ellman <barbaraellman@...>
 

My great-grandfather & his brother changed their last names in Europe. The
family story is that they were trying to escape being taken into the army. We
don't know what the original name was but the manifest and documents in the US
agree on the basic name, if not the spelling of the name.

No one checked to see proof of who they were. They were accepted as listed on
the manifest.

Barbara Ellman
Secaucus, NJ
barbaraellman@vzavenue.net


Ida & Joseph Schwarcz
 

My cousin Sarah decided her name was not classy enough so when she graduated >from
high school in 1935 she started using the name Susan. She never had a birth
certificate because she was born at home and the midwife did not register the
birth. She had a social security number and a passport and got married, all with
the name Susan. However, when she went to renew her passport she was told she had
to prove that she was born in the US! She had her elementary school records but
that did not satisfy the bureaucrats.
Finally, the census records showed that her parents, brother, and baby girl
(unnamed) lived in New York City, so that was the proof she used to renew her
passport. At the time illegal immigrants were working in New York, but Susan had
to prove that she belonged. She was quite indignant since she had been working and
paying taxes since the age of 16.
My birth certificate lists my name as Ida, but somewhere along the line I decided
I wanted to use my Jewish middle name as well and signed myself Ida Sara Cohen and
that was my name for years and years. I finally decided that Ida Sara Cohen
Selavan Schwarcz was a bit unwieldy so I went with Ida Selavan Schwarcz. And I was
born a long time after my cousin!
Ida Selavan Schwarcz

Very difficult to trace names. As far as I know, my grandparents did not have to
show anything with their names. I know that my grandfather came here as "Markus"
and changed his name to Max. My grandmother was "Adeline" and changed it to
Adele. Neither did this in any legal way, they just started using the names.>
Leslie Weinberg


Sally M. Bruckheimer <sallybru@...>
 

In the early part of the 20th century and before, there was no social security and
no driver's licence. One of the major freedoms of the US was that no 'ID' was
needed for most things having to do with the government (that is, you wouldn't be
arrested for not having 'papers' like in Russia and many other places), and you
could call yourself anything you liked as long as you didn't intend to defraud
somebody, avoiding debts or whatever.

Lots of people left Russia and other countries illegally and didn't take papers
which could 'prove' that they were Russian, for example, in case someone might
want to send them back. People went AWOL >from every war and didn't want to be
identified. That was OK. You had a ticket in some name, and you went to America
to be free.

And people did. If your grandfather decided that Smith was better than
XYZydowski, he called himself Smith. When a marriage occurred, Smith was what was
told to the clerk for the marriage record. When a baby was born, Smith was what
they said. Same with the census taker and everyone else.

If later, Jones seemed more appealing, they started saying Jones.

Which was the 'real' name and which the 'false' name? It depends how you look at
it.

I have a cousin who knows that her grandmother came to the US using a ticket
bought for a girl who died before the ship left Europe. Why waste a perfectly
good ticket! The grandmother, as a teenager, came to the US with a ticket saying
'Whatever' (they know the name and so do I). In this country she went back to her
original name.

If you don't know the name before it was changed, it can be nearly impossible to
find out-but you keep looking in this country and you might find it. Another
cousin mused one day that he thought his grandfather's name was something
elsebefore being changed to what it is now, but he didn't even know where his
grandfather was from. (This was the other side of his family-I knew nothing but
the little he knew). Well he knew they lived in Syracuse before 1880, and his
grandfather died in Buffalo.

We were living in Buffalo, so I took a trip downtown and got a death certificate
and went to the library. The family was not on the microfilm of the 1880 soundex
under the new name or the old one, but I got the 1880 Syracuse directory and
looked the names up. Neither was there, but there was another 'foreign' name
similar to what the name had been according to my cousin. I copied the
information down and got the 1880 census for that family. My cousin said, "Oh,
that is them- the Levy part of his family changed the old name to match the first
name of the original immigrant - Levi- and the other part used another name more
similar to the original Lithuanian (and the grandfather was born in Lithuania
according to the death certificate) name.

I was lucky. It took me 1 hour to find out what their name was before it was
changed. It took me 8 years to find out where my gr grandfather was born-and I
still don't know where my gr grandmother was >from (the Duchy of Nassau, but
where. Perhaps you will find an answer somewhere between 1 hour and 8 year >from
now. Let me know!

Sally Bruckheimer
Chatham, NJ

"Bottom line, for those of us who wish to find our ancestors in the Old
Country, how can we connect to the old name?"


Joanne Saltman <js24saltman@...>
 

At least one of my ancestors just picked a new name after he came here-the family
story is that Slotnik was too ethnic sounding so he changed his name to Goldstein-
which he thought was more important and impressive. Though Jacob was a
bricklayer, he also was a bit of a dilletante. But I do think it is true that the
immigrants needed to have a name that matched their papers because when his wife
and children came later they still used the name Slotnik.
Joanne Saltman
Belchertown, MA


Dick Plotz
 

Joanne Saltman wrote:

At least one of my ancestors just picked a new name after he came here-the
family story is that Slotnik was too ethnic sounding so he changed his name to
Goldstein-which he thought was more important and impressive.
That's not much of a change. "Slotnik" is >from a Slavic root meaning "gold".
It may reflect vanity, or a family occupation, or it may be a matronymic,
from Zlata, the Slavic form of Golda.
Dick Plotz
Providence RI USA


Paul Silverstone
 

I too have a story. My grandfather was asked to spell his name when he
arrived. On hearing the name no one could spell it (Chrzan). So he
gave his wife's maiden name (Silberstein). Logical. Since his name on
the manifest was written very similar to Chrzan, this must have happened
somewhere after immigration.
Paul Silverstone

Mara Fein wrote:

I have read many times that immigrants names were not changed at Ellis
Island. However, I would like to see more of a discussion about
changing names. I have a grandparent who, it is said changed his name
after he left Russia in 1901. But when could that have occurred?

As I understand it, you need to "register" to leave your town (and that
records exist documenting this), and I would assume to do that you had
to use your real name.

Once you got to the ship you were taking, did you have to show papers
that proved that the name you provided was your real name or could you
give a false name at this point?

Once you were in the country, could you just start using another name at
the turn of the 20th century?

Bottom line, for those of us who wish to find our ancestors in the Old
Country, how can we connect to the old name?

Mara Fein
Los Angeles
maraharv@msn.com
--
Paul Silverstone
New York

www.paulsilverstone.com

Please reply to: paulh@aya.yale.edu