A Rosen­berg by Any Oth­er Name: A His­to­ry of Jew­ish Name Chang­ing in America

  • From the Publisher
January 1, 2013

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.

Discussion Questions