H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
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
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]