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

Kirsten Fermaglich. New York Univ, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4798-6720-2
Fermaglich (American Dreams and Nazi Nightmares), a professor of history and Jewish studies at Michigan State University, supplies much fascinating anecdotal material and socioeconomic analysis in this history of Jewish name-changing in New York City in the mid-20th century. Formal petitions by Jews to anglicize or otherwise change their names—a somewhat cumbersome and expensive process—increased in the 1940s from 250–300 per year to 800. Fermaglich shows how, particularly in the 1940s and ’50s, name changing was undertaken overwhelmingly by native-born Jews who lived in largely upper-middle-class neighborhoods, not out of self-hatred but because, in a time of considerable anti-Semitism, they sought a measure of “personal invisibility” to afford themselves more educational and professional opportunities. She discusses how the end of mass anti-Semitism (in the second half of the century) and the growth of ethnic pride among Jews (and others) led not only to a significant decline in Jewish name changing but also to the practice being viewed with disfavor by many younger Jews. She pads her work a little at the end by cursorily discussing name-changing among other ethnic groups, including Arabs and Muslims in the post-9/11 era. Still, this is a fine contribution to an important, previously underexplored area of American Jewish identity and social history. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/27/2018
Release date: 10/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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