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AWADmail Issue 388December 6, 2009
A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
From: Susan Gluck (susanjgluck earthlink.net)
"A common misconception... when an immigrant to the US arrived on Ellis Island, the clerk at the registration office often changed a name, from Kwiatkovski to Kay, for example."
I've heard this name-change explanation all throughout my life, from day one, so in one swoop, you're going to make a generalization and claim it's mostly a myth? How could so many people (who heard it from their parents, grandparents and great grandparents) be so wrong, as you state the opposite? What is your source for your claim that Ellis Island name-changing is mostly a myth? I'd like to know.
A number of readers sent their comments on this topic. They shared stories of their ancestors immigrating to the US and having their names changed at the port of entry. An understanding of the paper trail busts the myth. The passenger manifest was prepared at the departing country and it was this document that was used to record the immigrants' information at the port of entry. The immigration clerk had no motivation to change a name. The US Immigration and Naturalization Agency (now known as the BCIS) explains in detail.
That's not to say that some change (such as the omission of accent marks) did not happen at the port (see the email below), but the majority of name changes happened later, and for a different reason. The immigrants changed their names to blend in their new country. Genealogists, people who research families' histories for a living, agree that Ellis Island name change is a myth. In her book A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Ethnic Ancestors, author Sharon DeBartolo Carmack writes:
"This is the myth that an immigrant ancestor's surname was changed by officials during processing at Ellis Island. No evidence whatsoever exists to suggest this ever occurred, and I have challenged countless people who insist their ancestor's name was changed on Ellis Island to provide me with proof. So far, no one has been able to. Even the historians at Ellis Island will tell you this is just a colorful family story."
It's a fascinating topic. Have fun searching passenger records at ellisisland.org I found three Gargs who arrived in the US the late 1890s, from Germany. I came to the US much later, from India, in 1991 as Anurag Garg, and decided to shorten it a few years later during a job hunt while completing my graduate studies in computer science. Another data point in why people change names.
From: Bernhard Muller (bfmuller1 yahoo.com)
From: Carol Kuhns (usa1-hermana usa.net)
From: Paul Douglas Franklin (pdf6161 paulfranklin.org)
From: Steve Price (sdprice510 mac.com)
From: Hugh Saxton (hugh.saxton gmail.com)
From: Rachel Matthews (bruniquel sbcglobal.net)
From: Robert Payne (dziga68 sbcglobal.net)
From: Richard Stallman (rms gnu.org)
My first introduction to the word apropos was when I first learned the UNIX operating system.
The "apropos" helped with that, allowing you to type "apropos foo" to find all the manual entries which might have something to do with foo.
I invented this feature. In 1976 or 1977 I implemented a similar command, M-x apropos, in the Emacs text editor. Some of the developers of BSD (the version of UNIX you must have used) had previously used Emacs at MIT, so they were familiar with the idea.
Emacs needed this feature because it was extensible; the list of commands was not fixed. Today, GNU Emacs has the same command.
From: Bill Siderski (Siderski hotmail.com)
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:Bare lists of words are found suggestive to an imaginative and excited mind. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)