The directory-makers are experiencing
less difficulty every year with the names of the Russian and Polish
Jews on the East Side of New York. The names with which they are
burdened when they come to this country are made pronounceable by
the children or the teachers when the second generation goes to
school, and while in some instances the new names sound like the
original, they are written differently, and in most cases, bear no
resemblance to the roots from which they were taken. This is true
not only of family names but of the "front" names, too. A
long-bearded pushcart man was asked in court recently, "What is your
"Yaikef Rabinowski," he answered. The magistrate evidently thought
that was the man's family name and asked, ''What's your Christian
The man became indignant at being suspected of having anything
"Christian" about him, and "front name" has been the proper
expression at that seat of justice ever since.
Yitzchok, the Hebrew of Jacob, has been made Hitchcock, and an old
man whose neighbors know him as Cheskel has assumed the more
euphonious name of Elwell. There are many similar cases of
evolution, but there are more American, English, and even French
names among the dwellers in the ghetto are the result of accident as
much as anything else. Children are sent to school, and their names
are placed on the records by the teacher, who does the best he can
with the unpronounceable thing. After the children have been in
school a short time, they and their parents become known by the name
given to them by the teacher.
An example of this kind was mentioned recently by a young woman who
had been a teacher in a school where many Russian children were
pupils. "A man came in one day," she said, "with two boys who could
not say a word in English. Their names were impossible except for
those who had acquired the East Side jargon. When the man was gone,
I made one understand that his name would be John and the other that
he would have to answer to the name William, and in some way or
other their family name which was full of twists and turns, and
ended with a 'witch,' became Holz. Within a few weeks John and
William Holz made themselves understood in fair English, and within
a year they were star pupils. One day the father called at the
school to see me about his boys and introduced himself as Mr. Holz!
He seemed to be as much at home with the name as though he had been
born with it, and so there are hundreds in our district."
In many instances a sign bought at a bargain has caused men to
assume a new name, and the changes are made without the least
feeling in the matter. One East Side patriarch said, "We honor our
fathers just as much, even if we drop their names. Nothing good ever
came to us while we bore them; possibly we'll have more luck with
the new names."
But there are cases where men changed their names because they
wanted to obliterate their foreign origin. Thus a family came to New
York with the name of Neuberger. Presently the name became Newburger;
then it was changed to Newburg, and now the two remaining brothers
are known, one as Mr. New and the other as Mr. Berg.
The merchant on the East Side who rejoices in the name
Katzenellenbogen and his neighbor Leworosinski continue to do
business despite the numerous syllables in their names, but not so
Mr. Bochlowitz. His son changed his name to Buckley, and even this
was too long for the second son, who cut it down a peg and made it
Buck. The father and son, it is said, are in business under the firm
name of Bochlowitz & Buckley, and they send checks signed that way
to the young Buck, who is still at school.
"It does some people good to change their names," said an East Side
observer, "and I doubt whether Mr. Gladstone would ever have been
the great man he was if his ancestors had not dropped the name
Freudenstein for Gladstone or whether other German names would have
been as well received as their Americanized substitutes." The man
could not be convinced that Gladstone was not originally
One group of names on the East Side is always recognized by the
knowing ones as Bohemian. To this class belong the names Yelteles,
Abeles, Karpeles, Kakeles, and a number of other names ending in
"les." When the owners of some of these names outgrow the East Side
and move uptown they drop one of the "e's" in their name and then
blossom forth as Karpels, Kakels, etc.
One Bohemian said that his countrymen
were proud of the "les" names, because they show that Aristotles,
Sophocles, Pericles, and Hercules were all Bohemians.