The Lower East Side of New York
Jewish Life in America

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From The New-York Tribune, July 3, 1898.

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 name?"

"Yaikef Rabinowski," he answered. The magistrate evidently thought that was the man's family name and asked, ''What's your Christian name?"

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 Freudenstein.

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.







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