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A Schmutz for a Sanders

Commemorating great name-changes

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All in all, it is probably a positive sign that immigrants to America no longer feel the need or desire to change their surnames to more “American” (re: Anglo, or at least intelligible-to-English) variants. At the same time, one can’t help but feel that something is being lost, particularly in the Jewish community. To that end, I polled a few Tablet Magazine staffers to find out their original last names from way, way back. Don’t forget to leave yours in the comments!

Fishbeyn –> Matthew Fishbane, deputy politics editor

Hoffmann –> Allison Hoffman, senior writer

Urich* –> Wayne Hoffman, deputy editor of Nextbook Press

Ivry –> Sara Ivry (ivrit, anyone?), senior editor

Mueller –> Abigail Miller, assistant art director/Webmaster

Neuhaus –> Alana Newhouse, editor-in-chief

Oxfeld –> Jesse Oxfeld, executive editor (okay so not everyone had name-changes)

Schmutz (!) –> Gabe Sanders, deputy editor

Smallwood –> Len Small, art director/Webmaster

Zubrine/Rosenfeld** –> Julie Subrin, audio producer

Tracovutski –> Marc Tracy, staff writer

* “Apparently some other family in Russia named Hoffman had visas to emigrate, and their visas came in before my family’s (Urich) did. But when their visa came up, one of the Hoffman children was ill and they’d have been turned away from the boat. They told the Urichs that they could use the Hoffman visa—all they had to do was switch family names. Simple. We’ve been Hoffman ever since.”

**There is apparently much controversy on the subject!

New Life in U.S. No Longer Means New Name [NYT]

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It wasn’t necessarily the immigrants themselves who felt “the need or desire to change their surnames to more “American” (re: Anglo, or at least intelligible-to-English) variants.”
In many cases it was the American immigration functionaries, and it didn’t happen just fictionally as in the Senders/Sanders anecdote in The Chosen.

When my grandfather came through Ellis Island in 1910, some helpful civil servant changed his name from Zoosman Zupnick to Isidore Chopnick (go figure) and my grandmother’s first name from Raiza to Rose.

We had always thought that the name was changed at Ellis Island or by the public schools in the U.S., but we’ve come to find out the biggest change seemed to have occurred in Posen, where they got on the boat to come over. Marcovitch or something like that to Markowitz and Merkowitz (different branches).

Joshua says:

OK, so I guess I’m going to go through all the surnames in my family tree:
Salamonovics –> Solomon
Brunnengraber –> Braun
Tepper –> Tepper
Zissovics –> Zisovic
Feldman –> Feldman
Jermansky/Germansky –> Germaine
Lipes –> Lipschitz –> Lippitt (yes, two changes!)
Elimelech –> Wetstone (yes, your guess is as good as mine)
Yelovitz –> Young

This whole business of surname changes started with Napoleon, who, when he emancipated eastern European Jews, also required them to switch from patronymics to family names like everyone else. One result was the the Cohanim and Leviim adopted last names like Cohen and Levy (or variations thereof). Another was a mad scramble to buy up the best-sounding names from the registrars. Some of those surnames reflected an ancestor’s occupation, such as my grandfather’s last name (zupnick = tailor in Yiddish) According to Encyclopedia Judaica, my family name comes from men who wanted to honor their mothers who were named Golda by incorporating her first name in to their new last names.


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A Schmutz for a Sanders

Commemorating great name-changes

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