H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
Proper Names in America
On October 20, 1919, Mr. Mondell, of Wyoming, the majority leader, arose in the House of Representatives and called the attention of the House to the presence in the gallery of a detachment of 27 soldiers, popularly known by the appropriate title and designation of Americans all. A few moments later Mr. Wilson, of Connecticut, had the names of these soldiers spread upon the record for the day. Here they are:
This was no unusual group of Americans, though it was deliberately assembled to convince Congress of the existence of a melting pot that really melts. I turn to the list of promotions in the army sent in to the Senate on the first day of the Harding administration, and find Lanza, Huguet, Shaffer, Brambila, Straat, Knabenshue, De Armond, Meyer, Wiezorek and Stahl among the new colonels and lieutenant-colonels, and Ver, Lorch, von Deesten, Violland and Armat among the new majors. I proceed to the roll of the Sixty-sixth Congress and find Babka, Bacharach, Baer, Chindblom, Crago, Dupré, Esch, Focht, Goldfogel, Goodykoontz, Hernandez, Hoch, Juul, Kahn, Keller, Kiess, Kleczka, Knutson, Kraus, Larsen, Lazaro, Lehlbach, Rodenberg, Romjue, Siegel, Steenerson, Volk, Volstead, Voigt and Zihlman in the House. I go on to the list of members of the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1919) and find Cortissoz, deKay, Gummere, Lefevre, Schelling, van Dyke and Wister among the writers, and Ballin, Betts, Brunner, Carlsen, De Camp, Dielman, Du Mond, Guerin, Henri, Jaegers, La Farge, Niehaus, Ochtman, Roth, Volk and Weinman among the painters and sculptors. I conclude with a glance through Whos Who in America. There are Aasgaard, Abbé, Abt, Ackerman, Adler, Agassiz, Agee, Allaire, Alsberg, Alschuler, Althoff, Althouse, Ament, Amstutz, Amweg, Andrus, Angellotti, Anshutz, Anspacher, Anstadt, App, Arndt, Auer, Auerbach, Ault and Auman, to go no further than the Asall notable living men and women of the United States and all nativeborn.
Practically any other list of Americans would show many names of the same sort. Indeed, every American telephone directory offers plenty of evidence that, despite the continued political and cultural preponderance of the original English strain, the American people have quite ceased to be authentically English in race, or even, as a London weekly has said, predominantly of British stock.1 The blood in their arteries is inordinately various and inextricably mixed, but yet not mixed enough to run a clear stream. A touch of foreignness still lingers about millions of them, even in the country of their birth. They show their alien origin in their speech, in their domestic customs, in their habits of mind, and in their very names. Just as the Scotch and the Welsh have invaded England, elbowing out the actual English to make room for themselves, so the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, the Scandinavians and the Jews of Eastern Europe, and in some areas, the French, the Slavs and the hybrid-Spaniards have elbowed out the descendants of the first colonists. It is no exaggeration, indeed, to say that whereever the old stock comes into direct and unrestrained conflict with one of these new stocks, it tends to succumb, or, at all events, to give up the battle. The Irish, in the big cities of the East, attained to a truly impressive political power long before the first nativeborn generation of them had grown up.2 The Germans, following the limestone belt of the Alleghany foothills, preempted the best lands East of the mountains before the new republic was born. And so in our own time we have seen the Swedes and Norwegians shouldering the native from the wheat lands of the Northwest, and the Italians driving the decadent New Englanders from their farms, and the Jews gobbling New York, and the Slavs getting a firm foothold in the mining regions, and the French Canadians penetrating New Hampshire and Vermont, and the Japanese and Portuguese menacing Hawaii, and the awakened negroes gradually ousting the whites from the farms of the South.3 The birthrate among all these foreign stocks is enormously greater than among the older stock, and though the deathrate is also high, the net increase remains relatively formidable. Even without the aid of immigration it is probable that they would continue to rise in numbers faster than the original English and so-called Scotch-Irish.4
Turn to the letter z in the New York telephone directory and you will find a truly astonishing array of foreign names, some of them in process of anglicization, but many of them still arrestingly outlandish. The only Anglo-Saxon surname beginning with z is Zacharias5 and even that was originally borrowed from the Greek. To this the Norman invasion seems to have added only Zouchy. But in Manhattan and the Bronx, even among the necessarily limited class of telephone subscribers, there are nearly 1500 persons whose names begin with the letter, and among them one finds fully 150 different surnames. The German Zimmermann, with either one n or two, is naturally the most numerous single name, and following close upon it are its relatives, Zimmer and Zimmern. With them are many more German names, Zahn, Zechendorf, Zeffert, Zeitler, Zeller, Zellner, Zeltmacher, Zepp, Ziegfeld, Zabel, Zucker, Zuckermann, Ziegler, Zillman, Zinser and so on. They are all represented heavily, but they indicate neither the earliest nor the most formidable accretion, for underlying them are many Dutch names, e. g., Zeeman, and over them are a large number of Slavic, Italian and Jewish names. Among the first I note Zabludosky, Zachczynski, Zapinkow, Zaretsky, Zechnowitz, Zenzalsky and Zywachevsky; among the second, Zaccardi, Zaccarini, Zaccaro, Zapparano, Zanelli, Zicarelli and Zucca; among the third, Zukor, Zipkin and Ziskind. There are, too, various Spanish names: Zalaya, Zingaro, etc. And Greek: Zapeion, Zarvakos and Zouvelekis. And Armenian: Zaloom, Zaron and Zatmajian. And Hungarian: Zadek, Zagor and Zichy. And Swedish: Zetterholm and Zetterlund. And a number that defy placing: Zrike, Zvan,6 Zwipf, Zula, Zur and Zeve.
In the New York city directory the fourth most common name is now Murphy, an Irish name, and the fifth most common is Meyer, which is German and often Jewish. The Meyers are the Smiths of Austria, and of most of Germany. They outnumber all other clans. After them come the Schultzes and Krauses, just as the Joneses and Williamses follow the Smiths in Great Britain. Schultze and Kraus do not seem to be very common names in New York, but Schmidt, Muller, Schneider and Klein appear among the fifty commonest.7Cohen and Levy rank eighth and ninth, and are both ahead of Jones, which is second in England, and Williams, which is third. Taylor, a highly typical British name, ranking fourth in England and Wales, is twenty-third in New York. Ahead of it, beside Murphy, Meyer, Cohen and Levy, are Schmidt, Ryan, OBrien, Kelly and Sullivan.Robinson, which is twelfth in England, is thirty-ninth in New York; even Schneider and Muller are ahead of it. In Chicago Olson, Schmidt, Meyer, Hansen and Larsen are ahead of Taylor, and Hoffman and Becker are ahead of Ward; in Boston Sullivan and Murphy are ahead of any English name save Smith; in Philadelphia Myers is just below Robinson. Nor, as I have said, is this great proliferation of foreign surnames confined to the large cities. There are whole regions in the Southwest in which López and Gonzales are far commoner names than Smith, Brown or Jones, and whole regions in the Middle West wherein Olson is commoner than either Taylor or Williams, and places both North and South where Duval is at least as common as Brown.
Moreover, the true proportions of this admixture of foreign blood are partly concealed by a wholesale anglicization of surnames, sometimes deliberate and sometimes the fruit of mere confusion. That Smith, Brown and Miller remain in first, second and third places among the surnames of New York is surely no sound evidence of Anglo-Saxon survival. The German and Scandinavian Schmidt has undoubtedly contributed many a Smith, and Braun many a Brown, and Müller many a Miller. In the same way Johnson, which holds first place among Chicago surnames, and Anderson, which holds third, are plainly reinforced from Scandinavian sources, and the former may also owe something to the Russian Ivanof. Miller is a relatively rare name in England; it is not among the fifty most common. But it stands thirtieth in Boston, third in New York, fourth in Baltimore, and second in Philadelphia.8 In the lastnamed city the influence of Müller, probably borrowed from the Pennsylvania German, is plainly indicated, and in Chicago it is likely that there are also contributions from the Scandinavian Möller, the Polish Jannszewski and the Bohemian Mlinár. Myers, as we have seen, is a common surname in Philadelphia. So are Fox and Snyder. In some part, at least, they have been reinforced by the Pennsylvania German Myer, Fuchs and Schneider. Sometimes Müller changes to Miller, sometimes to Muller, and sometimes it remains unchanged, but with the spelling made Mueller. Muller and Mueller do not appear among the commoner names in Philadelphia; nearly all the Müllers seem to have become Millers, thus putting Miller in second place. But in Chicago, with Miller in fourth place, there is also Mueller in thirty-first place, and in New York, with Miller in third place, there is also Muller in twenty-fourth place.
Such changes, chiefly based upon transliterations, are met with in all countries. The name of Taaffe, familiar in Austrian history, had an Irish prototype, probably Taft. General Demikof, one of the Russian commanders at the battle of Zorndorf, in 1758, was a Swede born Themicoud, and no doubt the founder of the house in Sweden was born a Frenchman. Franz Maria von Thugut, the Austrian diplomatist, was a member of an Italian Tyrolese family named Tunicotto. This became Thunichgut (=do no good) in Austria, and was changed to Thugut (=do good) to bring it into greater accord with its possessors deserts.9 In Bonaparte the Italian buon (o) became the French bon. Many English surnames are decayed forms of Norman-French names, for example, Sidney from St. Denis, Divver from De Vere, Bridgewater from Burgh de Walter, Montgomery from de Mungumeri, Garnett from Guarinot, and Seymour from Saint-Maure. A large number of so-called Irish names are the products of rough-and-ready transliterations of Gaelic patronymics, for example, Findlay from Fionnlagh, Dermott from Diarmuid, and McLane from Mac Illeathiain. In the same way the name of Phnix Park, in Dublin, came from Fion Uisg (=fine water). Of late some of the more ardent Irish authors and politicians have sought to return to the originals. Thus, OSullivan has become O Suilleabháin, Pearse has become Piarais, Shields has become OSheel, Mac Sweeney has become Mac Suibhne, and Patrick has suffered a widespread transformation to Padraic. But in America, with a language of peculiar vowel-sounds and even consonant-sounds struggling against a foreign invasion unmatched for strength and variety, such changes have been far more numerous than across the ocean, and the legal rule of idem sonans is of much wider utility than anywhere else in the world. If it were not for that rule there would be endless difficulties for the Wises whose grandfathers were Weisses, and the Leonards born Leonhards, Leonhardts or Lehnerts, and the Manneys who descend and inherit from Le Maines.
A crude popular etymology, says a leading authority on surnames,10 often begins to play upon a name that is no longer significant to the many. So the Thurgods have become Thoroughgoods, and the Todenackers have become the Pennsylvania Dutch Toothakers, much as asparagus has become sparrow-grass. So, too, the Wittenachts of Boyle county, Kentucky, descendants of a Hollander, have become Whitenecks, and the Lehns of lower Pennsylvania, descendants of some far-off German, have become Lanes.11 The original Herkimer in New York was a Herchheimer; the original Waldo in New England was a German named Waldow. Edgar Allan Poe was a member of a family long settled in Western Maryland, the founder being one Poh or Pfau, a native of the Palatinate. Major George Armistead, who defended Fort McHenry in 1814, when Francis Scott Key wrote The Star-Spangled Banner, was the descendant of an Armstädt who came to Virginia from Hesse-Darmstadt. General George A. Custer, the Indian fighter, was the great-grandson of one Küster, a Hessian soldier paroled after Burgoynes surrender. William Wirt, anti-Masonic candidate for the presidency in 1832, was the son of one Wörth. William Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was the great-grandson of a Bohemian named Paka. General J. J. Pershing is the descendant of an Alsatian named Pfoersching, who immigrated to America in the eighteenth century; the name was at first debased to Pershin; in 1838 the final g was restored. General W. S. Rosecrans was really a Rosenkrantz. Even the surname of Abraham Lincoln, according to some authorities, was an anglicized form of the German Linkhorn.12
Such changes, in fact, are almost innumerable; every work upon American genealogy is full of examples. The first foreign names to undergo the process were Dutch and French. Among the former, Reiger was debased to Riker, Van de Veer to Vandiver, Van Huys to Vannice, Van Siegel to Van Sickel, Van Arsdale to Vannersdale, and Haerlen (or Haerlem) to Harlan;13 among the latter, Petit became Poteet, Caillé changed to Kyle, De la Haye to Dillehay, Dejean to Deshong, Guizor to Gossett, Guereant to Caron, Soulé to Sewell, Gervaise to Jarvis, Bayle to Bailey, Fontaine to Fountain, Denis to Denny, Pebaudière to Peabody, Bon Pas to Bumpus and de lHôtel to Doolittle. Frenchmen and French Canadians who came to New England, says Schele de Vere, had to pay for such hospitality as they there received by the sacrifice of their names. The brave Bon Cur, Captain Marryatt tells us in his Diary, became Mr. Bunker, and gave his name to Bunkers Hill.14 But it was the German immigration that provoked the first really wholesale slaughter. A number of characteristic German soundsfor example, that of ü and the guttural in ch and gare almost impossible to the Anglo-Saxon pharynx, and so they had to go. Thus, Bloch was changed to Block or Black, Ochs to Oakes, Hoch to Hoke, Fischbach to Fishback, Albrecht to Albert or Albright, and Steinweg to Steinway, and the Grundwort, bach, was almost universally changed to baugh or paugh, as in Brumbaugh and Fish paugh (or Fishpaw). The ü met the same fate: Grün was changed to Green, Sänger to Sanger or Singer, Glück to Gluck, Führ to Fear or Fuhr, Wärner to Warner, Düring to Deering, and Schnäbele to Snabely, Snavely or Snively. In many other cases there were changes in spelling to preserve vowel sounds differently represented in German and English. Thus, Blum was changed to Bloom,15 Reuss to Royce, Koester to Kester, Kuehle to Keeley, Schroeder to Schrader, Stehli to Staley, Weymann to Wayman, Klein to Kline or Cline, Federlein to Federline, Friedmann to Freedman, Bauman to Bowman, Braun to Brown, and Lang (as the best compromise possible) to Long. The change of Oehm to Ames belongs to the same category; the addition of the final s represents a typical effort to substitute the nearest related Anglo-Saxon name or name so sounding. Other examples of that effort are to be found in Michaels for Michaelis, Bowers for Bauer, Johnson for Johannsen, Ford for Furth, Hines for Heintz, Kemp for Kempf, Foreman for Führmann, Kuhns or Coons for Kuntz, Hoover for Huber, Levering for Liebering, Jones for Jonas, Redwood for Rothholz, Grosscup for Grosskopf, Westfall for Westphal, Kerngood for Kerngut, Collenberg for Kaltenberg, Cronkhite for Krankheit, Betts for Betz, Pennypacker for Pfannenbecker, Crile for Kreil,16 Swope for Schwab, Hite or Hyde for Heid, Andrews for André, Young for Jung and Pence for Pentz.17
The American antipathy to accented letters, mentioned in the chapter on spelling, is particularly noticeable among surnames. An immigrant named Fürst inevitably becomes plain Furst in the United States, and if not the man, then surely his son. Löwe, in the same way, is transformed into Lowe (pro. low),18Lürmann into Lurman, Schön into Schon or Shane, Günther into Ginter, Suplée into Suplee or Supplee, Lüders into Luders, and Brühl into Brill. Even when no accent betrays it, the foreign diphthong is under hard pressure. Thus the German oe disappears and Loeb is changed to Lobe or Laib, Oehler to Ohler, Loeser to Leser, and Schoen to Schon or Shane. In the same way the au in such names as Rosenau changes to aw. So too, the French oi-sound is disposed of, and Dubois is pronounced Doo-bóys and Boileau acquires a first syllable rhyming with toil. So with the kn in the German names of the Knapp class; they are nearly all pronounced, probably by analogy with Knight, as if they began with n. So with sch; Schneider becomes Snyder, Schlegel becomes Slagel, and Schluter becomes Sluter. If a foreigner clings to the original spelling of his name he must usually expect to hear it mispronounced. Roth, in American, quickly becomes Rawth, Ranft is pronounced Ranf; Frémont, losing both accent and the French e, becomes Freemont; the names in -thal take the English th sound; Blum begins to rhyme with dumb; Mann rhymes with van, and Lang with hang; Krantz, Lantz and their cognates with chance; Kurtz with shirts; the first syllable of Gutmann with but; the first of Kahler with bay; the first of Werner with turn; the first of Wagner with nag. Uhler, in America, is always Youler. Berg loses its German e-sound for an English usound, and its German hard g for an English g; it becomes identical with the berg of iceberg. The same change in the vowel occurs in Erdmann. In König the German diphthong succumbs to a long o, and the hard g becomes k; the common pronunciation is Cone-ik. Often, in Berger, the g becomes soft, and the name rhymes with verger. It becomes soft, too, in Bittinger. In Wilstach and Welsbach the ch becomes a k. In Anheuser the eu changes to ow. The final e, important in German, is nearly always silenced; Dohme rhymes with foam; Kühne becomes keen. In the collectanea of Judge J. C. Ruppenthal, of Russell, Kansas, a very careful observer, are many curious specimens. He finds Viereck transformed into Fearhake, Vogelgesang into Fogelsong, Pfannenstiel into Fanestil, Pflüger into Phlegar, Pfeil into Feil, and Steinmetz into Stimits. The Bohemian Hrdlicka becomes Herdlichka. The Dutch Broywer (in Michigan, where there are many Hollanders of relatively recent immigration) becomes Brower, Pelgrim becomes Pilgrim, Pyp becomes Pipe, Londen becomes London, Roos becomes Rose, and Wijngaarden becomes Winegar.
In addition to these transliterations, there are constant translations of foreign proper names. Many a Pennsylvania Carpenter, says Dr. Oliphant,19 bearing a surname that is English, from the French, from the Latin, and there a Celtic loan-word in origin, is neither English, nor French, nor Latin, nor Celt, but an original German Zimmermann.20 A great many other such translations are under everyday observation. Pfund becomes Pound; Becker, Baker; Schumacher, Shoemaker; König, King; Weissberg, Whitehill; Koch, Cook;21 Neumann, Newman; Schaefer, Shepherd or Sheppard; Gutmann, Goodman; Goldschmidt, Goldsmith; Edelstein, Nobelstone; Steiner, Stoner; Meister, Master(s); Schwartz, Black; Weiss, White; Kurtz, Short; Stern, Starr; Morgenstern, Morningstar; Weber, Weaver; Bucher, Booker; Vogelgesang, Birdsong; Sonntag, Sunday, and so on. It is not unusual for some members of a family to translate the patronymic while others leave it unchanged. Thus in Pennsylvania (and no doubt elsewhere) there are Carpenters and Zimmermans of the same blood. A Frenchman named LeRoi settled in the Mohawk Valley in the early eighteenth century; today his descendants are variously named Leroy, Larraway and King. Partial translations are also encountered, e. g., Studebaker from Studebecker, and Reindollar from Rheinthaler, and radical shortenings, e. g., Swiler from Lebenschweiler, Kirk from Kirkeslager, and Castle (somewhat fantastically) from Katzenellenbogen. The same processes show themselves in the changes undergone by the names of the newer immigrants. The Hollanders in Michigan often have to submit to translations of their surnames. Thus Hoogsteen becomes Highstone, Veldhuis becomes Fieldhouse, Huisman becomes Houseman, Prins becomes Prince, Kuiper becomes Cooper, Dykhuis becomes Dykehouse, Konig becomes King, Werkman becomes Workman, Nieuwhuis becomes Newhouse, and Christiaanse becomes Christians. Similarly the Greek Triantafyllopoulos (signifying rose) is often turned into the English Rose, Giannopoulos becomes Johnson, and Demetriades becomes Jameson. So, too, Constantinopoulos is shortened to Constant or Constantine, Athanasios to Nathan or Athan, Pappadakis, Pappadopoulos or Pappademetriou to Pappas. Transliteration also enters into the matter, as in the change from Mylonas to Miller, from Demopoulos to DeMoss, and from Christides to Christie.22 And so, by one route or another, the Polish Wiikiewicz becomes Wilson, the Scandinavian Knutson becomes Newton, the Bohemian Bohumil becomes Godfrey, and the Bohemian Kovár and the Russian Kuznetzov become Smith. Some curious examples are occasionally encountered, particularly among the Italians of the big cities. The late James E. March, Republican leader of the Third Assembly District in New York, was originally Antonio Maggio. Paul Kelly, leader of the Longshoremens Union, was Paolo Vaccarelli. One Alessandro Smiraglia has become Sandy Smash, Francesco Napoli is Frank Knapp, Francesco Tomasini is Frank Thomas, and Luigi Zampariello is Louis Smith. Henry Woodhouse, a gentleman prominent in aeronautical affairs, came to the United States from Italy as Mario Terenzio Enrico Casalegno; his new surname is simply a translation of his old one. The Belmonts, unable to find a euphonious English equivalent for their German patronymic of Schönberg, chose a French one that Americans could pronounce. Edmund Burke Fairfield, once chancellor of the University of Nebraska, was the descendant of a Frenchman named Beauchamp, who came to America in 1639.
In part, as I have said, these changes in surname are enforced by the sheer inability of Americans to pronounce certain Continental consonants, and their disinclination to remember the Continental vowel sounds. Many an immigrant, finding his name constantly mispronounced, changes its vowels or drops some of its consonants; many another shortens it, or translates it, or changes it entirely for the same reason. Just as a well-known Greek-French poet changed his Greek name of Papadiamantopoulos to Moréas because Papadiamantopoulos was too much for Frenchmen, and as an eminent Polish-English novelist changed his Polish name of Karzeniowski to Conrad because few Englishmen could pronounce owski correctly, so the Italian or Greek or Slav immigrant, coming up for naturalization, very often sheds his family name with his old allegiance, and emerges as Taylor, Jackson or Wilson. I once encountered a firm of Polish Jews, showing the name of Robinson & Jones on its sign-board, whose partners were born Rubinowitz and Jonas. I lately heard of a German named Knochea name doubly difficult to Americans, what with the kn and the chwho changed it boldly to Knox to avoid being called Nokky. A Greek named Papademetracopoulos, Harzidakis, Papalhesdoros, Sakorrhaphos, Jouphexes or Oikonomakes would find it practically impossible to carry on amicable business with Americans; his name would arouse their mirth, if not their downright ire. And the same burden would lie upon a Hungarian named Beniczkyné, or Gyalui, or Szilagyi, or Vezercsillagok. Or a Finn named Kyyhkysen, or Jääskelainen, or Tuulensuu, or Uotinen,all honorable Finnish patronymics. Or a Swede named Sjogren, or Leijonhufvud. Or a Bohemian named Srb, or Hrubka. Or a Hollander named Zylstra, or Pyp, or Hoogsteen. Or, for that matter, a German named Kannengiesser, or Schnapaupf, or Pfannenbecker.
But more important than this purely linguistic hostility, there is a deeper social enmity, and it urges the immigrant to change his name with even greater force. For a hundred years past all the heaviest and most degrading labor of the United States has been done by successive armies of foreigners, and so a concept of inferiority has come to be attached to mere foreignness. In addition, these newcomers, pressing upward steadily in the manner already described, have offered the native a formidable, and considering their lower standards of living, what has appeared to him to be an unfair competition on his own plane, and as a result a hatred born of disastrous rivalry has been added to contempt. Our unmatchable vocabulary of derisive names for foreigners reveals the national attitude. The French boche, the German hunyadi (for Hungarian),23 and the old English frog or froggy (for Frenchman) seem lone and feeble beside our great repertoire: dago, wop, guinea, kike, goose, mick, harp,24 bohick, bohee, bohunk, heinie, square-head, greaser, canuck, spiggoty,25 spick, chink, polack, dutchie, skibby,26 scowegian, hunkie and yellow-belly. This disdain tends to pursue an immigrant with extraordinary rancor when he bears a name that is unmistakably foreign and hence difficult to the native, and open to his crude burlesque. Moreover, the general feeling penetrates the man himself, particularly if he be ignorant, and he comes to believe that his name is not only a handicap, but also intrinsically discreditablethat it wars subtly upon his worth and integrity.27 This feeling, perhaps, accounted for a good many changes of surnames among Germans and Jews of German name upon the entrance of the United States into the war. But in the majority of cases, of course, the changes so copiously reportede. g., from Bielefelder to Benson, and from Pulvermacher to Pullmanwere merely efforts at protective coloration. The immigrant, in a time of extraordinary suspicion and difficulty, tried to get rid of at least one handicap.28
This motive constantly appears among the Jews, who face an anti-Semitism that is imperfectly concealed and may be expected to grow stronger hereafter. Once they have lost the faith of their fathers, a phenomenon almost inevitable in the first native-born generation, they shrink from all the disadvantages that go with Jewishness, and seek to conceal their origin, or, at all events, to avoid making it unnecessarily noticeable.29 To this end they modify the spelling of the more familiar Jewish surnames, turning Levy into Lewy, Lewyt, Levitt, Levin, Levine, Levey, Levie30 and even Lever; Cohen into Cohn, Cahn, Kahn, Kann, Coyne and Conn; Aarons into Arens and Ahrens, and Solomon into Salmon, Salomon and Solmson.31 In the same way they shorten their long names, changing Wolfsheimer to Wolf, Goldschmidt to Gold, and Rosenblatt, Rosenthal, Rosenbaum, Rosenau, Rosenberg, Rosenbusch, Rosenblum, Rosenstein, Rosengarten, Rosenheim and Rosenfeldt to Rose or Ross.32 Like the Germans, they also seek refuge in translations more or less literal. Thus, on the East Side of New York, Blumenthal is often changed to Bloomingdale, Schneider to Taylor, Reichman to Richman, and Schlachtfeld to Warfield. One Lobenstine (i. e., Lobenstein) had his name changed to Preston during the war, and announced that this was the English version of his patronymic. A Wolfsohn similarly became a Wilson, though without attempting any such fantastic philological justification for the change.33Fiedler, a common Jewish name, often becomes Harper in New York; so does Pikler, which is Yiddish for drummer. Stolar, which is a Yiddish word borrowed from the Russian, signifying carpenter, is changed to Carpenter. Lichtman and Lichtenstein become Chandler. Meilach, which is Hebrew for king, becomes King, and so does Meilachson. The strong tendency to seek English-sounding equivalents for names of noticeably foreign origin changes Sher into Sherman, Michel into Mitchell,34 Rogowsky into Rogers, Kolinsky into Collins, Rabinovitch into Robbins, Davidovitch into Davis, Moiseyev into Macy or Mason, and Jacobson, Jacobovitch and Jacobovsky into Jackson. This last change proceeds by way of a transient change to Jake or Jack as a nickname. Jacob is always abbreviated to one or the other on the East Side. Yankelevitch also becomes Jackson, for Yankel is Yiddish for Jacob.35 The Jews go further with such changes than any other people. They struggle very hard for position, and try to rid themselves of every unnecessary handicap. Moreover, they are supported by the historical name-shedding of a very eminent Jew, the Saul of Tarsus who became Paul. In precisely the same way, on attaining to 100 per cent Americanism, the Itzik Kolinsky of today becomes Sidney Collins.
Among the immigrants of other stocks some extraordinarily radical changes in name are also to be observed. Greek names of five, and even eight syllables shrink to Smith; Hungarian names that seem to be all consonants are reborn in such euphonious forms as Martin and Lacy. I have encountered a Gregory who was born Grgurevich in Serbia; a Uhler who was born Uhlyarik; a Beresford who was born Bilkovski; a Graves who descends from the fine old Dutch family of sGravesande. I once knew a man named Lawton whose grandfather had been a Lautenberger. First he shed the berger and then he changed the spelling of Lauten to make it fit the inevitable American mispronunciation. There is, again, a family of Dicks in the South whose ancestor was a Schwettendieckapparently a Dutch or Low German name. There is, yet again, a celebrated American artist, of the Bohemian patronymic of Hrubka, who has abandoned it for a surname which is common to all the Teutonic languages, and is hence easy for Americans. The Italians, probably because of the relations established by the Catholic church, often take Irish names, as they marry Irish girls; it is common to hear of an Italian pugilist or politician named Kelly or OBrien. The process of change is often informal, but even legally it is quite facile. The Naturalization Act of June 29, 1906, authorizes the court, as a part of the naturalization of any alien, to make an order changing his name. This is frequently done when he receives his last papers; sometimes, if the newspapers are to be believed, without his solicitation, and even against his protest. If the matter is overlooked at the time, he may change his name later on, like any other citizen, by simple application to a court of record or even without any legal process whatever.
Among names of Anglo-Saxon origin and names naturalized long before the earliest colonization, one notes certain American peculiarities, setting off the nomenclature of the United States from that of the mother country. The relative infrequency of hyphenated names in America is familiar; when they appear at all it is almost always in response to direct English influences.36 Again, a number of English family names have undergone modification in the New World. Venable may serve as a specimen. The form in England is almost inevitably Venables, but in America the final s has been lost, and every example of the name that I have been able to find in the leading American reference-books is without it. And where spellings have remained unchanged, pronunciations have been frequently modified. This is particularly noticeable in the South.37Callowhill, down there, is commonly pronounced Carrol; Crenshawe is Granger; Hawthorne, Horton; Heyward, Howard; Norsworthy, Nazary; Ironmonger, Munger; Farinholt, Fernall; Camp, Kemp; Buchanan, Bohannan; Drewry, Droit; Enroughty, Darby;38 and Taliaferro, Tolliver. The English Crowninshields commonly make it Crunshel. Van Schaick, an old New York Dutch name, is pronounced Von Scoik, though the hard Dutch sh-sound in other New York names, e. g., Schurman, has been softened. A good many American Jews, aiming at a somewhat laborious refinement, change the pronunciation of the terminal stein in their names so that it rhymes, not with line, but with bean. Thus, in fashionable Jewish circles, there are no longer any Epsteins, Goldsteins and Hammersteins but only Epsteens, Goldsteens and Hammersteens. The American Jews differ further from the English in pronouncing Levy to make the first syllable rhyme with tea; the English Jews always make the name Lev-vy, to rhyme with heavy. In general there is a tendency in America to throw the accents back, i. e., in such names as Cassels, Brennan, Gerard, Doran, Burnett, Maurice, etc. In England the first syllable is commonly accented; in the United States, the second.
To match such American prodigies as Darby for Enroughty, the English themselves have Hools for Howells, Sillinger for St. Leger, Sinjin for St. John, Weems for Wemyss, Luson-Gore for Leveson-Gower, Stubbs for St. Aubyn, Vane for Veheyne, Kerduggen for Cadogen, Moboro or Mobrer for Marlborough, Key for Caius, March-banks for Marjoribanks, Beecham for Beauchamp, Chumley for Cholmondeley, Trosley for Trotterscliffe, and Darby for Derby.39
Note 2. The great Irish famine, which launched the chief emigration to America, extended from 1845 to 1847. The Know Nothing movement, which was chiefly aimed at the Irish, extended from 1852 to 1860. [back]
Note 3. Richard T. Ely: Outlines of Economics, 3rd rev. ed.; New York, 1916, p. 68. [back]
Note 4.Cf. Seth K. Humphrey: Mankind; New York, 1917, p. 45. [back]
Note 5.Cf. William G. Searle: Onomasticon Anglo-Saxonicum; Cambridge, 1897. [back]
Note 6. A correspondent suggests that Zvan may be a misprint for Ivan. But what of the other strange names in the group? [back]
Note 8. It was announced by the Bureau of War Risk Insurance on March 30, 1918, that there were then 15,000 Millers in the United States Army. On the same day there were 262 John J. OBriens, of whom 50 had wives named Mary. [back]
Note 9.Cf. Carlyles Frederick the Great, bk. xxi, ch. vi. [back]
Note 10. S. Grant Oliphant, in the Baltimore Sun, Dec. 2, 1906. [back]
Note 11. Harriet Lane Johnston was of this family. Many other examples are to be found in the pages of the Pennsylvania-German Magazine, especially in the Meaning of Names department conducted by Dr. Leonard Felix Fuld. [back]
Note 12.Cf. Faust, op. cit., vol. ii, pp. 1834. See also A Few Bausman Letters, by Lottie M. Bausman, Pennsylvania-German Magazine, April, 1910, p. 229. [back]
Note 13. A Tragedy of Surnames, by Fayette Dunlap, Dialect Notes, vol. iv, pt. 1, 1913, pp. 78. [back]
Note 15. Henry Harrison, in his Dictionary of the Surnames of the United Kingdom; London, 1912, shows that such names as Bloom, Cline, etc., always represent transliterations of German names. They are unknown to genuinely British nomenclature. [back]
Note 16. I suggest that the eminent American surgeon, George W. Crile, may be a descendant of some early Kreil. His mothers name was Deeds. During the World War, when an American officer named Deeds was under attack, it was alleged that the original form of his name was Dietz. [back]
Note 17. A great many more such transliterations and modifications are listed by Faust, op. cit., particularly in his first volume. Others are in Pennsylvania Dutch, by S. S. Haldemann; London, 1872, p. 60 et seq., and in The Origin of Pennsylvania Surnames, by L. Oscar Kuhns, Lippincotts Magazine, March, 1897, p. 395. [back]
Note 18. I lately encountered the following sign in front of an automobile repair shop:
Note 20.Cf. The Origin of Pennsylvania Surnames, op. cit. [back]
Note 21.Koch, a common German name, has very hard sledding in America. Its correct pronunciation is almost impossible to Americans; at best it becomes Coke. Hence it is often changed, not only to Cook, but to Cox, Koke or even Cockey. [back]
Note 22. For the Dutch examples, I am indebted to Prof. Henry J. G. Van Andel, of Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., and to Prof. B. K. Kuiper, of the same city. The Greek examples come from Mr. S. S. Lontos, editor of Atlantis, the Greek daily newspaper in New York. [back]
Note 23. This is army slang, but promises to survive. The Germans, during the war, had no opprobrious nicknames for their foes. The French were usually simply die Franzosen, the English were die Engländer, and so on, even when most violently abused. Even der Yankee was rare. Teufelhunde (devil-dogs), for the American marines, was invented by an American correspondent; the Germans never used it. Cf. Wie der Feldgraue spricht, by Karl Borgmann; Giessen, 1916, p. 23. [back]
Note 24.Cf. Some Current Substitutes for Irish, by W. A. McLaughlin, Dialect Notes, vol. iv, pt. ii. [back]
Note 25.Spiggoty, of which spick is a variant, originated at Panama and now means a native of any Latin-American region under American protection, and in general any Latin-American. It is navy slang, but has come into extensive civilian use. It is a derisive daughter of No spik Inglese. [back]
Note 26. This designates a Japanese and is apparently used only on the Pacific Coast. It originally meant a Japanese loose woman, but is now applied to all persons of the race. Tucker says that dago goes back to 1832. It is probably a corruption of Diego; it was first applied to Mexicans. The etymologies of wop, guinea and kike are uncertain, and frequently disputed. Often efforts are made to discourage the use of these nicknames. Dr. P. P. Claxton, United States Commissioner of Education, devised in 1919 a Code of Honorable Names to be subscribed to by the Boy Scouts, whereby they agreed to avoid them. But Dr. Claxton omitted all the opprobrious names for the negroes, and the fact brought forth a protest from them. See Offensive Nicknames, by James W. Johnson, New York Age, Feb. 1, 1919. [back]
Note 27.Cf. Reaction to Personal Names, by Dr. C. P. Oberndorf, Psychoanalytic Review, vol. v. no. 1, January, 1918, p. 47 et seq. This, so far as I know, is the only article in English which deals with the psychological effects of surnames upon their bearers. Abraham, Silberer and other German psychoanalysts have made contributions to the subject. Dr. Oberndorf alludes, incidentally, to the positive social prestige which goes with an English air or a French air in America. He tells of an Italian who changed his patronymic of Dipucci into de Pucci to make it more aristocratic. And of a German bearing the genuinely aristocratic name of von Landsschaffshausen who changed it to a typically English name because the latter seemed more distinguished to his neighbors. Why is a French surname regarded as aristocratic in America? The question has never been investigated. [back]
Note 28. The effects of race antagonism upon language are still to be investigated. The etymology of slave indicates that the inquiry might yield interesting results. The word French, in English, is largely used to suggest sexual perversion. In German anything Russian is barbarous, and English education hints at flagellation. The French, for many years, called a certain contraband appliance a capote Anglaise, but after the entente cordiale they changed the name to capote Allemande. The common English name to this day is French letter. Cf. The Criminal, by Havelock Ellis; London, 1910, p. 208. In France a sharper is called a Greek, as drunk as a Pole is a common phrase, and one of the mainstays of low comedy is le truc du brésilien. See Xenophobia, by Rufino Blanco-Fombona, in his La Lámpara de Aladino, pp. 431440. In most of the non-Prussian parts of Germany cockroaches are called Preussen; in Prussia they are Franzosen; in some places they are Schwaben. [back]
Note 29.Cf. The Jews, by Maurice Fishberg; New York, 1911, ch. xxii, and especially p. 485 ff. [back]
Note 30. The English Jews usually change Levy to Lewis, a substitution almost unknown in America. They also change Abraham to Braham and Moses to Moss. Vide Surnames, Their Origin and Nationality, by L. B. McKenna; Quincy (Ill.), 1913, pp. 1314. Taylor is another common name among them. [back]
Note 31. I lately encountered Openhym in New York, Dalsemer (for Dalsheimer) in Philadelphia, and Thalhimer in Richmond, Va. Slessinger and Slazenger are common variants of Schlesinger in New York. [back]
Note 32. See A Cycle of Manhattan, by Thyra Samter Winslow, Smart Set, March, 1919. In New York I have encountered Schönes transformed into Shainess. [back]
Note 33. I take the following from Dr. Pepys Diary in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Today in ye clinic a tale told of Dr. Levy who hath had his name changed to Sullivan. A month after he cometh again to ye court, this time wishing to become Kilpatrick. On request for ye reason, he telleth ye court that ye patients continually ask of him, What was your name before? If granted ye change he shall then tell them Sullivan. [back]
Note 34. I once encountered a Mitchell Judge whose original name was Moses Richter. [back]
Note 35. For these observations of name changes among the Jews I am indebted to Mr. Abraham Cahan. [back]
Note 36. They arose in England through the custom of requiring an heir by the female line to adopt the family name on inheriting the family property. Formerly the heir dropped his own surname. Thus the ancestor of the present Duke of Northumberland, born Smithson, took the ancient name of Percy on succeeding to the underlying earldom in the eighteenth century. But about a hundred years ago, heirs in like case began to join the two names by hyphenation, and such names are now very common in the British peerage. Thus the surname of Lord Barrymore is Smith-Barry, that of Lord Vernon is Venables-Vernon, and that of the Earl of Wharncliffe is Montagu-Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie. [back]
Note 37. B. W. Green: Word-Book of Virginia Folk-Speech; Richmond, 1899, pp. 13-16. [back]
Note 38. A correspondent writes in explanation of this amazing pronunciation: The family, having rather unwillingly had to change their name to Enroughty to secure an inheritance, balanced up by continuing to pronounce their original nameDarby. [back]
Note 39.Vide Whos Who Year Book for 1917, pp. 74-82. [back]