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

Kirsten Fer­maglich NYU Press (OC­TO­BER) Hard­cover $28 (256pp) 978-1-4798-6720-2

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews | Adult Nonfiction - DANIEL SCHINDEL

Name chang­ing is a fa­mil­iar part of the popular Amer­i­can im­mi­gra­tion story and is par­tic­u­larly as­so­ci­ated with Jewish im­mi­grants, with land­mark sto­ries like The Jazz Singer fea­tur­ing Jewish leads chang­ing their names. In A Rosen­berg by Any Other Name, Kirsten Fer­maglich ex­plores the real his­tory be­hind Jewish name chang­ing in the US, lo­cat­ing both the fact and fic­tion in popular per­cep­tions around the phe­nom­e­non.

It turns out that name chang­ing was not nearly as preva­lent dur­ing the twen­ti­eth cen­tury as pop cul­ture may have us be­lieve. Even peo­ple hav­ing their names changed at El­lis Is­land was not that com­mon. How­ever, some stereo­types are shown to have truth. Re­search into le­gal pe­ti­tions for name changes re­veals that Jews in New York City did in­deed seek name changes in dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­bers. The rea­sons for this vary, though nearly all were in some way seek­ing to bet­ter their em­ploy­ment prospects or so­cial stand­ing. The his­tory of Jewish name chang­ing is shown to go hand in hand with the shift­ing tides of anti-semitism in Amer­ica.

Fer­maglich, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of his­tory and Jewish stud­ies at Michi­gan State Univer­sity, has metic­u­lously sourced her book. Ev­ery claim and ob­ser­va­tion is backed up with court records and ar­ti­cles from the time pe­ri­ods she sur­veys, and she also col­lates salient trends into easy-to-un­der­stand graphs and charts.

The book is writ­ten with an aca­demic au­di­ence in mind, and purely as a re­source it’s a wor­thy ac­com­plish­ment. But one doesn’t have to be a stu­dent, aca­demic, or even a hob­by­ist his­to­rian to ap­pre­ci­ate A Rosen­berg by Any Other Name. The writ­ing is ac­ces­si­ble enough for any­one with an in­ter­est in the sub­ject mat­ter to enjoy it. If you look deep enough into even the most mi­nor as­pect of so­ci­ety, you’ll learn a good deal about how the whole sys­tem works, and this book is stel­lar proof.

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