Name Changes #general


<< In a message dated 2/16/2000 10:05:34 PM, BARBARU@... wrote:

<<After going >from Aizik Kogen to Aizik Kohen, my gf went to Isaac Cohen.
by the time he died, he was Isidore Cohen! No matter whether he was Isaac or
Isidore, to me he was just "Grandpa Izzy!"
Milton Goldsamt commented:

<<About the same happened to me: my father Irving I found to be listed as
Isidore and Izzy in Census records, and---- Isaac on his marriage record!
Except no one ever told me he was born as Isaac and I never thought to ask! >>

You guys don't know how lucky you are. At least there is a trace between
Izzie, Izadore, Isaac. My great uncle Benzion Weiss became Benedict Weiss in
New York and ended up as Jack Lee Smith when he died.

Bob Weiss in Northridge, CA

Ira Martel <iramartel@...>

It's even worse for those of us who have never been able to find the real

My grandfather arrived here unable to speak a word of English. His cousin
Solomon was to meet the ship. He said that his name was Isaac. Any other
question they asked he said Solomon. His name was entered as Isaac
Yurowsky. When he became a citizen he signed the record with an X. He did
not learn to read and write English until he had been here for almost 20
years. My mother was the last of his living children and she died two weeks
ago. I asked her lots of questions over the past year but she did not know
the real name.

I have a few leads but have not been able to move research up to a high
enough level on my list of priorities to get it done.

Ira Martel

Researching: Solomon, Martel, Mottl, Yurovsky, Yurowsky, Pavlik, Gordon,

----Original Message Follows----
From: JHWILNER1@...
Subject: Name Changes
Date: Mon, 18 Sep 2000 15:08:33 EDT

..When my paternal great-great-grandparents, Julius Biczik & Leah Weiner left Berezno in the Ukraine with their 7 children headed for NY, they too encountered a name change upon arrival at Ellis Island... Since the family name Biczik was not clear... Ellis Island opted for the name Weiner. Other
family members have told me that Biczik might of be interpreted as a dirty
word, or because of draft dodging...
Jeffrey H. Wilner
E-mail: Jhwilner1@...


Ira-Please read message >from Selma Neubauer, which arrived just before yours.
It makes excellent suggestions which we should all incorporate. You said
"My grandfather arrived here" without saying where here is. If it is the
U.S., and if you have his citizenship documents, you may be able to locate
the passenger manifest for the ship on which he travelled. You send to the
National Archives to get these. This should give you an accurate idea of
European name (See Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy by Gary Mokotoff and
Warren Blatt, pp. 35-36.

Robin B. Seidenberg
Grayslake, IL

Diane Frankel <dlfrankel@...>

Name changes AT Ellis Island is a myth which seems never to die. The
manifests were filled out BEFORE they got onto the ship. The manifest was
handed to the immigration officer for purposes of checking off the names.
If the names were changed, it was done when the passports were filled out
and/or when the tickets were purchased or AFTER the person (s) had landed
and decided to change the name.

The surnames were NOT changed at Ellis Island.

Diane Frankel
North Miami Beach, FL

lenwrite <lenwrite@...>

I have been a subscriber to JewishGen for more than two years, and Ukrainian
SIG since its inception. During that time I have witnessed posting after
posting dealing with the name issue, and none that I can recall have been

Neither the ship's purser nor immigration officials ever altered an
immigrant's name. It should come as no surprise that the guilty culprits
were embassy and emigration officials in the home country.

My father told me a story how officials at Ellis Island could not spell my
grandfather's patrynomic ZAMACHOFSKY, so they gave him the name of the man
in front of him in line, which was ZUNDER. Quite accidently, the official
closed the "U" and my grandfather always wrote his name "ZONDER."

Some 30 years after my grandfather came to this country, he came to New
Haven to visit his younger brother Jack, once known as Feiga Leo

At the New Haven railroad station my grandfather took a cab giving the cab
driver the name of the store and the address.

"No problem, sir. I know the store well. I'm a customer."

In a few minutes they pulled up in front of the store and my grandfather
took one look at the sign and told the cabbie that it wasn't the right
store. This was ZUNDER'S. He wanted ZONDER'S.

Rather than argue, the cabbie took my grandfather up and down the street (it
was a short one) but to no avail. Search as they might they couldn't find
ZONDER'S. Finally the cabbie convinced my grandfather to go into the store
and ask the people inside (my aunt and uncle) if they knew where ZONDER'S
was. "After all," the cabbie allegedly said, "with names as close as that,
surely they must know of each other.

My grandfather agreed, got out of the cab and entered the store. Spying his
brother, the first word's out of my grandfather's mouth were: "Jack! You
spelled our name wrong."

About six years ago, just after the death of my mother, I was helping my
father clean out some papers and organize others when I spotted a passport.
Opening it up and reading it, I saw that it was my great-grandfather's
passport to leave Russia and travel to the United States. This was in 1909,
three years after my grandfather arrived here.

The passport was written in Russian, which I cannot read, German and French.
I can read the French and with the help of the French was able to fight my
way through the German. They were identical. In short, the passport
contained the ZAMACHOFSKY name, in a flourished script, written by the same
person on all three entries. The name was written by a person well familiar
with Western Latin script. Nowhere was the name written in Cyrillic,
although there was a complete Cyrillic section.

So much for the misapplication of the name ZONDER.

However, the passport opened a Pandora's Box of new mysteries. First, it was
issued (surprise, surprise) by the German Consulate in Odessa. My family was
from Yelisavetgrad, about 200 miles north of Odessa. If the family had come
through that port enroute to the United States, I could make sense of it.
But the family came through Bremenhavn. Odessa was way out of the way. Why?
Also, if they traveled under the name ZAMACHOFSKY, where did the name ZONDER
come from? And where were the passports for my great-grandmother and my
great-uncle Jack?

The last problem was the easiest to solve. Prior to 1923 (?) women and
dependent children traveled under one passport issued to the head of the
family. As Jack was only eight years old, he would have been on that

I have not completely put the mystery of the "ZONDER" name to rest yet. I
have proved it originated with my grandfather, but not why. I have not been
able to find either ZONDER or ZAMACHOFSKY on any ship's manifest. I only
know he came to America in 1906, three years ahead of the rest of the

As he was only 15, he was "sponsored" by his mother's sister who was already
in New Haven, and apparently living comfortably. She is listed in the city
directory as owning a rooming house.

One possibility is that Aunt Huldah paid for my grandfather's passage on a
Red Star ship out of Antwerp, Belgium (not proven yet), and either told him
or arranged for him to use the name ZUNDER deliberately.

Meier ZUNDER was a Bavarian Jew who had settled in New Haven before 1850 and
had risen in the public esteem to become President of the New Haven Board of
Education. City fathers also named a school after him that still stands but
is no longer used as a school.

His two sons operated an importing-exporting business in the city and
represented several shipping lines, one of which was Red Star. If this
surmise is correct, he was told to use the name to get respect aboard the

Another possibility is the word "ZONDER" in Dutch (spoken in Holland) means
"without or alone." I believe he was traveling alone and perhaps HIAS or
some other agency bestowed the name on him. (Their are several ZONDERS in
the Detroit area (no relation) that are of Belgian extraction.)

However, I can concoct several other possible reasons for the name ZONDER,
but they are farther afield than the reasons already stated.

The important point herein is that our ancestors traveled with passports.
Ship's personnel only interviewed them for supplementary information
required on the arrival documents handed over to immigration authorities,

As for the different spelling in Lois' relatives papers, remember officials
were translating the name as it sounded. There were no rules as there are
today. Our immigrant ancestors spoke in dialect. Some spoke Litvak, other
Galitziana, or Palish (Polish) or Rushishuh. The differences would amaze
Just the familiar Hebrew word Shabbat can be pronounced Shabess or Shabbos
or Shabbois in Yiddish.

Lenn Zonder
Woodbridge, CT

Doug Cohen

the manifest was a form prescribed by US law, and was required to be
presented at the port of arrival. the purser had to do it in English.

Doug Cohen
Lexington, MA

----- Original Message -----
From: "Silverman, Bill" <bsilverman@...>
To: "Ukraine SIG" <ukraine@...>
Sent: Thursday, January 02, 2003 9:17 AM
Subject: [ukraine] RE: Name Changes

The one thing I don't understand is what country the ship's clerk/purser
from. If the names were recorded at the point of embarkation, does this
the rest of the information on the ship's manifest was also recorded
If so, howcome everything is in English? Thanks,
Bill Silverman

Silverman, Bill <bsilverman@...>

The one thing I don't understand is what country the ship's clerk/purser was
from. If the names were recorded at the point of embarkation, does this mean
the rest of the information on the ship's manifest was also recorded there?
If so, howcome everything is in English? Thanks,
Bill Silverman

-----Original Message-----
Dear Group,
Name changes is a topic which has been addressed many times and Mr. Pitcoff
may want to look in the SIG archived messages and/or the JewishGen InfoFiles
on names. (

To Mr. Pitcoff and any others who are just starting to search for
immigrants, here are some important points to consider:

1. People did NOT have their names changed at Ellis Island. This is
such a hard myth to kill! If the family name changed, it was usually done
once they were in this country and wanted a simpler, more "American"
sounding name. Sometimes a family member would precede the others, change
the name, and then tell the rest of the family to use the "new" name when
they came over. Officials at Ellis Island simply read the names that were
already written on the ships' manifests. The names were written by ships'
clerks/pursers in Europe. They did NOT change names, simply wrote what they
were told.

2. Names, such as the one Mr. Pitcoff is researching, that have many
phonetic variations, can easily be misspelled, and when searching databases,
all possible variations need to be looked at. Pietcovsky could also be
spelled with a "j," or a "y" instead of the double vowel; the "c" could
easily be a "k;" the "v" could be an "f," etc. If you haven't tried Stephen
Morse's search engine, <> you might want to
do that, instead of the actual Ellis Island site. It will allow you much
more flexibility.

3. Remember when searching, that immigrants came with
Yiddish/Hebrew/European first names. Be creative with spelling but remember
you are not looking for American names.

4. As many people on the Belarus SIG added, people often traveled
with false papers, and they took the names on them as their own. The
important thing to remember is that if names were changed, it was because
the individual chose to do so!

Good luck with your search.

Ilene Kanfer Murray
St. Louis, MO
Searching: KANFER in Horochov; PLITT/PLATT in Poritsk; WEISBERG in
Makhnovka; BOCHES in Pikov

Mike Posnick

As many who read this list already know, the idea that names were changed
by immigration officials is simply wrong. Marian Smith, historian of the
former United States Immigration and Naturalization Service has debunked
this myth in several magazine articles, including at least one published in
Avotaynu, and in presentations given at several IAJGS International
Conferences on Jewish Genealogy.

Names were changed by the bearer (or their relatives), either before
migration or after. In many cases of post-migration name changes, the
change was adopted without any legal formalities.

Mike Posnick
Minneapolis, Minnesota

In her Litvak SIG message of 1/1/2005, Cindy Gerstl <cindygerstl@...>

Often, complicated, multi-syllabic names were changed or simplified and
made more "American" by immigration officials. Part of my family was
given a new name by immigration officials who couldn't understand the
original last name. The original name was (Shimon) Bablowsky. The new
last name was taken >from Uncle Simon's first name, so that Shimon
Bablowsky became Shimon Simon or Simon Simon. Later-arriving family
members took the name Simon when they came through immigration. .

Mike Berger <smberg@...>

Clearly the belief that names were changed at "Ellis Island" is a myth -
the U.S. Government passenger arrival records (found via the Ellis
Island web site for example) were completed on the "rag ships" en route
to America, not after arrival.

Many immigrants, such as my grand parents, came over on German ships,
often out of Hamburg. The German crews completed the forms at sea.
Consider the scenario - a long line of Eastern European immigrants who
speak Hebrew plus Polish or Russian or whatever. A very busy German
clerk says "namen?", my grandmother says "Birger" - the crew member
hears "Berger", writes it down and the name has been "changed."
Consider all the possible opportunities for error with your name.

Mike Berger

Mike Posnick

In her Litvak SIG message of Sat, 1 Jan 2005, Cindy Gerstl
<cindygerstl@...> wrote:

I'd like to suggest that despite -- or because of -- their instructions,
some officials made similar "suggestions". Unfortunately, those of us
who have worked for bureaucracies know how officials can sometimes bend
rules and regulations.

It may be that some immigration officers made such suggestions, although I
believe that Dick Plotz's explanation is closer to the truth. If I
remember Marian Smith correctly, federal law, and not rules or regulations,
prohibited alteration of the passenger manifests by the immigration officers.

And in his Litvak SIG message of Sun, 02 Jan 2005, Mike Berger
<smberg@...> wrote:
[T]he U.S. Government passenger arrival records (found via the Ellis
Island web site for example) were completed on the "rag ships" en route
to America . . . .

My recollection is that the manifests were prepared at the time of
embarkation and not after departure. The steamship companies were
responsible for the cost of returning ineligible immigrants to the ports
from which they departed. Their practice, therefore, was to examine the
passengers before permitting them on board.

German-speaking ship's officers likely would have understood
Yiddish-speaking passengers. They would, however, have transcribed names
that were originally rendered in Cyrillic or Hebrew script into Latin
characters according to the phonetic usage common in German.

Mike Posnick
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Ivan Sindell <isindell@...>

"German-speaking ship's officers likely would have understood
Yiddish-speaking passengers. They would, however, have transcribed
names that were originally rendered in Cyrillic or Hebrew script into
Latin characters according to the phonetic usage common in

My Father's family name is Sindell, which was changed in the 1930's
from Sindel, and family legend was that they ere shinglers. I
had manifests of my ggm coming into Baltimore in 1906 as Sindel and
My ggf coming through Ellis Island in 1905 as Sindel. But my
grandfather proceeded him through Baltimore and I was getting nowhere.
Then I found him as Schindel which is German for Shingle.
Looking further in the Litvak Sig database I found Shindels who were
roof-makers and one who was a shingle maker. In any case I
believe the German manifest makers in Bremen made Shindel, Schindel
and my gf wanted to make it American sounding so he simply
removed both c and h. He also changed his first name >from Israel
to Isadore.

Ivan (Israel) Sindell
Alexandria Virginia

Kovitz, Sonia <Sonia.Kovitz@...>

On this subject, here is an odd case (just so you'll know that such
things, though rare, do happen) of a FIRST name being changed by Ellis
Island, and for no apparent reason.

One of my relatives, ZUSSMAN ITZIKOVITZ, emigrated to the US from
Lithuania in 1913 on the Lakonia. I learned >from his grandson Sheldon
Kovitz: "The emigration people gave him the name Jacob Itzikovitz, but
this was never his name."

The name Jacob persisted on some documents, perhaps citizenship, but
was ignored in private life, since Zussman continued to use his own
given name, not Jacob. (We Kovitzes are a stubborn bunch.)

Sonia Kovitz

Ida & Joseph Schwarcz

My late husband's grandfather, born Ya'akov Kohen in Kaligerke (near Shpola)
had his name changed to Salavan. Apparantly the rest of the family liked
this new name so much they all became Salavan. When my late father-in-law
came to Erets Yisrael in 1923 he went through a number of name changes and
ended up with Seh-Lavan (white sheep) which became Selavan in the US.
Ya'akov Kohen made aliya in about 1935 and also adoped the name Seh-Lavan.
But my brother-in-law did not like being called "black sheep" in school so
he shortened his name to Lev.

Ida Selavan Schwarcz
Ganei Omer

From: GeoestherL@... [mailto:GeoestherL@...]

I have been told by two elderly Aunts a very similar story - that the
family name was changed by an ancestor in order to avoid possible
conscription in the Russian army. I always doubted this history but now
have found written justification for their claim. Has anyone else had this
issue raised?

George Liss


My Grandfather Chaskel Cymes, Immigrated to the US >from Zawady
(then part of Russia), in 1909 using the surname of his friend,
Abe Munach, and stating that he was going to "his father Louis Munach"
in New York. I never would have found his manifest if I hadn't found
his naturalization papers first which stated he entered the country
using the name Chaskel Munach. Supposedly, he was trying to avoid
conscription into the Russian Army.

Meryl Rizzotti
Researching: CYMES >from LOMZA, LEIBOWITZ, >from TYKOCIN, SPECTER >from

Yonatan Ben-Ari

I want to thank all those who replied to my posting on Name Changes.

Yoni Ben-Ari, Jerusalem