"We Really Like Winston Better Than Weinstein! New York City Jews and Name-changing in Postwar Era"
(Conferences / Seminars / Lectures)
Presenter: Kirsten Fermaglich, Department of History, Michigan State University
Thousands of name change petitions were submitted to the New York City Civil Court during the 1940s and 1950s, with disproportionate numbers of submissions from people with Jewish names. Debates over Jewish identity at this time tended to equate name changing with passing and escaping the Jewish community. Quietly challenging portraits of name changers as "passers," however, were Jewish voices like sociologist Erving Goffman, who described name changing as a more complex act of "covering": hiding the most obtrusive parts of a stigma so that it did not impede daily life. Name change petitions, published writings, and unpublished letters from name changers during the postwar era suggest that "covering" more accurately reflected the complicated practice of name changing for the majority of American Jews.