New Names for a New Country

  • No Nothing

    The last name that they went by when they came to this country was Spigel, but it was S-P-I-G-E L. When they came into the United States the guys would say write down the name and they were just in a hurry and they just left out the first “E” just for these two and that’s all there’s ever been. And the rest of the family, like I said, we have no idea what happened to them. My grandfather was the type that he said when he left the old country what was there stayed. No nothing. He was not going to talk about it. So we only can assume that there were a lot of things that were not very pleasant and he didn’t want to think about them. So I don’t know that much. I have one aunt, my father’s only sister, and I’ve asked her but she is almost ninety and she doesn’t remember a lot now, so I don’t know that much about why things were done. But I know that my Uncle Joe came first and it had to have been in the middle 1800s [1880s?] because Grandpa and my grandmother moved to Spartanburg in 1903. They were already married and then my aunt was born in 1906 and my father was born in 1912.

  • Story from: Ferguson, Conie Spigel |
  • The Jewish Pale

    Now, the background, my father came to Charleston in—it was probably 1884 or ’5. Must have been ’85 because he was supposedly born in 1870. He would never tell us but just putting together all of these things we figured out that he was born in 1870, in the town of Smascki, I think it was. S-M-A-S-C-K-I, and it’s on the map, oddly enough. I think that’s how you spell it. He always called it Schumasky. But it may have been Kopcvi, because he spoke of the two and both of them are about maybe 5 or 10 miles from each other and there goes a little history, a little Jewish history, history of the Jewish pale. Which happened to be typified by the experience of his family. He always talked about Kopcvi and Smascki and wondered about that so we have a family tree which was developed by one of our cousins from Knoxville, Tennessee, whose name was Rose Gorse, the official family historian. Now, in that family tree, which went back to 1770, the family along about in 1792 changed its name from B-A-N-O-R to B-A-N-O-V, I’m sorry, to Banovitz and I wondered about that and I noticed that they moved from Smascki to Kopvci or vice versa, along about that time. So I got curious about that. So I looked for a map of that period. Why did they move in 1792? So I went down there and I found out that in 1792 was the first partition of Poland, that this town was originally Poland where the name was Banor because that’s the Polish and it became Banovitz which was the Russian, so obviously they moved, and I wondered why. Well, that was the partition of Poland, and the part they were in went to Prussia and they apparently didn’t like the idea of being part—living with Prussians so they moved over to what in those days must have been a more gentle population in Russia. So that’s why the name was changed to Banovitz.

  • Story from: Banov, Abel |
  • F-R-E-M, F-R-A-M, F-R-O-M

    We had to have this picture made, and they told us to be at the photographers, all the family. See, there were six siblings, my grandparents and six siblings, and each one of them had—I think we were the only ones with six children, some of them had four, three, or five. Everybody was there. It’s a gorgeous picture. I have the picture at home, in my house. My grandfather and grandmother and all the brothers and all the grandchildren. One person was missing. They told the photographer and he said, “Just save room. We’ll put [him in]. Send us a college picture.” He was at Georgia Tech. His name is Charlie. Well, he calls himself Charles, and we call him Charlie. His last name is F-R-A-M. This is very interesting—They all came to Ellis Island and would give their names and the people at Ellis Island, of course, would translate it. There’s some in the family that spell it F-R-E-M, and some who spell it F-R-O-M, and some are spelled F-R-A M. I think we’re the only ones that are F-R-O-. I thought it was pronounced “frahm” but spelled with a A. So this man at Ellis Island said, “If his name is From, it’s got to be F-R-O-M,” so that’s the way. But some of them are F-R-E-M. So when the Frems and the Frams and the Froms met at the photographer’s, everybody’s in the picture except this one Charlie Fram. He was the oldest one and they left space for his picture. It was interposed, and everybody is looking facing the camera, and he’s facing that way, so you can see it’s a very interesting picture.

  • Story from: Poliakoff, Rosa From |
  • The Baron

    My cousin comes up with a very—a story that’s hard for me to believe, how [our grandfather] got the name of Baron. He was a young man during the pogroms. According to him, my old grandfather and a few other young men took on the Russians, who were sort of raping the females and you know what, and they became the protectors of their little village. According to Nate—he said that our grandfather and his friends took care of the Russians so well that the Czar wanted to see the leader of the group in Leningrad or wherever it was. When he got them there, he offered him that barony and made him a Baron. When he came to this country, they asked him what his name was and he said Baron so-and-so, so they named him Baron, so he became Joseph Baron.

  • Story from: Stine, Gordan B. |
  • A-B-E

    When my dad, he graduated high school in 1918 in New York, decided that he was tired of writing his name Abraham Jacob Steinhauser and—if you remember, if you went to school and had to do the Palmer method and write your name—when he graduated high school he dropped Abraham to Abe, A-B-E, and Jacob to Jack, and then he changed that to just a “J,” and cut off the “hauser” and used the “Stein.” I was raised—always Jewish. We were very Orthodox up until Mother had to break up her home, you know, and move up to New Jersey. She thought that was bad luck, and—you asked me how we changed our name—she was a numerologist and [through] her readings, she figured out, she changed my “on” to “an,” I was born G-O-R-D-O-N, and the Stein to S-T-I-N-E, to change the name—the spelling of it, not the letters—’cause that was going to change her luck.

  • Story from: Stine, Gordan B. |
  • Son of Abu

    [My great-grandparents were] Moshe and Nechanah Abalovitz. That’s kind of self explanatory, “abou” in Arabic is “father,” “aba” in Hebrew is “father.” So “the father of so-and so” was how these names evolved, and then it’s “the son of.” When they got into Eastern Europe and they had to have surnames, it was Abalovitz, which is “the son of Abou.” That all went by the board when they got to this country, because the first—my grandfather’s brother, who came here first, took the name Levenson. Where he got it from, we don’t know, but he took the name Levenson. It might have been a friend, or his sponsor. So when my father followed him, he also took the name Levenson. When he got to Ellis Island, [the officer] said, “What is [your] name?” and he says, [mumbling] “Isaiah,” and they said, “Oh, we’ll put down Isaac Levenson.” So in this country he became Isaac Levenson.

  • Story from: Schlosburg, Ella Levenson |
  • Strictly Irish

    Their [my mother’s family] name was not Cahn. My grandfather, her father, his parents had two boys, and in Europe she had—either my grandfather or my grandmother had a sister who didn’t have any children, so one sister raised one boy and the other sister raised my grandfather, because if you had two sons, one went in the army. So one sister raised one and one sister raised the other. One was Kaplan—they settled in Chicago, that end of the family, and they took the name Kaplan. And my uncle took the name Cahn when he came over. C-A-H-N, which is strictly Irish. [“Cahn” is pronounced by Mrs. Schlosburg as “Kane.” Both “Kane” and “Keane” are Americanized Irish names; the spelling “Cahn” may be unique to this family.] They decided they would open a saloon, because that’s a good way to make money in Baltimore. If you’re going to open a saloon, you pick an Irish neighborhood—you don’t pick a Jewish neighborhood, you pick an Irish neighborhood. So in order to do business they took the name Cahn, C-A-H-N, which is Irish. And then they brought their family over—the two older boys came, and then they brought their family, instead of the father coming and bringing the children. That’s the reason Mother didn’t come to this country until she was about fifteen, I would say, and then she was married by the time she was nineteen, I think.

  • Story from: Schlosburg, Ella Levenson |
  • Alter

    “Alter” means “old.” The thing was, in the old country—and in this country—When your brother in-law, Sol Lourie, almost died—he was six years old and he had double pneumonia and he couldn’t make it, he was so sick in St. George—my mother and my husband took him to the Jewish synagogue and gave him a nickname “Alter.” They thought that would prolong his life. Of course, that was superstition, I know that, but my mother believed in it, and my husband was very devoted to the Lourie children. So Alter is not a name, it’s something that’s added onto your name. Sol is named after my grandfather, my mother’s father. Schlami Zalman was his real name.

  • Story from: Levinson, Libby Friedman |
  • Make it Lesser

    What happened was the Lessers came through Ellis Island. They gave their name to the bureaucrat and he said, “Can’t you make it shorter than that?” They had some long name. So Mr. Lesser said, “Well, make it lesser”—meaning make it smaller—so he made it Lesser. That’s the story they tell. I don’t know whether you should believe it or not.

  • Story from: Rosen, Morris David |
  • Ferguson

    You know that famous story about the family named Ferguson—you’ve never heard that? Well, when he came to this country the man was trying to think of his name, because you know they were given all kinds of names by the Russian officials, sometimes the most defamatory-type names in Russian. And so he came to the immigration officer and the immigration officer said, “What’s your name?” and he said “Forgesen,”—“forgot”—so he wrote down Ferguson.

  • Story from: Bloom, Jack L. |
  • A-D-D-L-E-S-T-O-N-E

    I went to Leeds the first time in 1960 and I went to visit my father’s—[he] had a sister whose name was Eisenberg. She had died, but had two sons. One of them had changed his name, for business reasons, I guess, from Abe Eisenberg to Alf Inglesby. The other one was Eisenberg, Jack Eisenberg. Abe Eisenberg had one son—Alf Inglesby had one son—and Jack Eisenberg had one son and a daughter. He had a little store in the neighborhood, [a] section of Leeds, for household goods and knitting and crochet thread and that sort of thing. The other one was a salesman. Anyway, when I went to Leeds I usually stayed at the Queen’s Hotel, [which] is always the big hotel near the railroad station in England, and when I checked in I picked up a telephone book and started looking for Laders and Inglesbys, and I found Addlestone in the telephone book. There must have been 150 Addlestones. I assume what happened when my dad came as a greenhorn to register, his name could have been Adelstein or something similar to that, and it became Addlestone. I guess that’s the way they registered him, because all these people were from the Church of England, none of them were Jewish. There’s an Addlestone, England, right near Gatwick Airport. In fact, my cousin—who was just married to David Appel, from here at the Storm Eye Institute—they were there together and brought me pictures of the time. Evidently it’s a well-known name in England, because I got a picture from a brewery with three beer dispensers and one of them said Addlestone Ale. Somebody sent me a soap wrapper that said Addlestone. It’s spelled the same way. Nobody here spells it that way. A-D-D-L-E-S-T-O-N-E. I’ve seen it E-D-D-, A-D-E-L-, but not A-D-D-L-E-S-T-O-N-E.

  • Story from: Addlestone, Nathan S. |
  • Drop the t

    My father’s half-brothers always spelled their name Breitbard. My father’s name became Breibart, we pronounce it Breibart, but probably when he applied for his citizenship papers he pronounced it Breitbard and that’s how they spelled it, they spelled it B-R-E-I-B-A-R-T. So that was on his papers and he just took that form of it and used it.

  • Story from: Breibart, Solomon |
  • Jacobs I

    When my Grandfather Jacobs got to Ellis Island (or perhaps Liverpool) his name was Isaac Karesh and when they asked him his name he couldn’t talk English, he told them Yitchok ben Yankov, Isaac the son of Jacob. The man there said,“ I’ll put you down as Isaac Jacobs.” He said, “All right.” So his brothers kept the name Karesh. We are actually related to more Kareshes than Jacobs. In fact, I never heard of a Karesh we are not related to pretty far back. Jacobs, except for my grandfather and his descendants, that’s the only Jacobs we are related to.

  • Story from: Jacobs, Isaac |
  • Jacobs II

    Well, the story is that Mr. Jacobs was really Karesh and when he got to the immigration department they asked his name and he said Jacob. His name was Jacob Karesh. And they assumed that would be his family name, Jacobs. That’s what they became, Jacobs. Jacobs instead of Karesh. Sammy Jacobs, who was a long-time historian, unofficial historian, he always said that was not true, he didn’t want to be a Karesh, he wanted to be really a Jacobs. He resented that.

  • Story from: Karesh, Karl |
  • Tailors

    We always knew they came from someplace near Bialystok. And it could be that they lived in a small town outside of Bialystok because Bialystok was a very industrialized city and they could have lived there. But when I was last in Israel they have a kind of a computer system where for 25 cents you could plug in your family name and where you think they lived and you would get a—and I’ve got that report upstairs if you’d like to see it. What Bialystok was like in those times. And instead of the name Karesh coming up, it came up as Kravcheck. One of my distant relatives, Julian Krawcheck, who now lives in Cleveland, Ohio, was a journalist and he interpreted Kravcheck to be Taylor. They were tailors. And there were a lot of tailors in my immediate family, particularly in the Krawchecks, in the Karesh family there were several people who had experience in tailoring. So it could very well be the name was Kravcheck instead of Karesh.

  • Story from: Karesh, Karl |
  • Spell it Read

    Papa’s name actually was Frank Redt, R-E-D-T. And that’s the name he used when he came to this country. And the ladies of Pinopolis were teaching him English that he never got fully, but he could make himself understood, believe me. And they kept telling him when he signed his name Frank Redt that that’s not how you spell Read, ’cause they thought that was his European accent. And he finally ended up by going before a judge and having his name legally changed to Read.

  • Story from: Read, Joseph David |
  • Charlie Chaplin

    His brother, Charlie, Charlie Chaplin, can you imagine, came separately from my dad. Ellis Island did the same thing on names, in his case cutting off everything down to the last five letters. So, there one brother who was Chaplin, another brother who was Linsky. They had a summit meeting and settled on Chaplin.

  • Story from: Chaplin, George |