Thursday, August 26, 2010

Immigrant Names

According to one enduring myth, the surnames of many immigrants (including German immigrants) were anglicized or changed at Ellis Island. Not so! On the contrary, immigration officials at Ellis Island meticulously recorded names exactly as they were written on ship lists or other documents the immigrants brought with them. Only rarely and mostly because of transliteration questions, names were spelled differently our changed. An interesting article "New Life in America no Longer Means a New Name" in the New York Times looks at why some immigrants with ethnic names have opted for a change. The paper comes to the conclusion that these name changes today are rare, and if they occur, it is mostly for personal reasons (the wish to use a spouse's name for example) rather than a wish to disassociate with an ethnic name.