Our thinking about Jewish name changing tends to focus on clichés: ambitious movie stars who adopted glamorous new names or insensitive Ellis Island officials who changed immigrants’ names for them. But as Kirsten Fermaglich elegantly reveals, the real story is much more profound. Fermaglich examines previously unexplored name change petitions to upend the clichés, revealing that in twentieth-century New York City, Jewish name changing was actually a voluntary behavior as thousands of Jews legally changed their names in order to respond to an upsurge of antisemitism. Rather than trying to escape their heritage or “pass” as non-Jewish most name-changers remained active members of the Jewish community. This first history of name changing in the United States demonstrates how historical debates about immigration, antisemitism, and race, class, mobility, gender, and family, the boundaries of the Jewish community, and the power of government are reshaped when name changing becomes part of the conversation. Mining court documents, oral histories, archival records, and contemporary literature, Fermaglich argues convincingly that name changing had a lasting impact on American Jewish culture.
A Rosenberg by Any Other Name: A History of Jewish Name Changing in America
- From the Publisher
January 1, 2013
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