Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
(The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus, 1883)
“About 1 in every 25 Americans is named Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown, Jones, Miller or Davis.” (NY Times)
“Originally, … men had but one name.” “About the year of our Lord 1000 … surnames began to be taken up in France, and in England about the time of the Conquest, or else a very little before, under King Edward the Confessor, who was all Frenchified…”
“(T)he French and we termed them Surnames, not because they are the names of the sire, or the father, but because they are super added to Christian names, as the Spanish called them Renombres, as Renames.” (Camden; Philomathic Journal)
In old English name-making, every surname was essentially based on one of four reasons (1) personal, from a sire or ancestor, (2) local, from place of residence, (3) occupative, from trade or office, (4) a nickname, from bodily attributes, character, etc. (Weekley)
Today, we say a patronym is a personal name suited to its owner. For some, like ‘Smith,’ the person was a metal worker; for others, like Johnson, he was ‘son of John.’
Some say there is a relationship between a person’s name and his occupation – nominative determinism is the theory that people tend to gravitate towards areas of work that fit their name. (Thomas Crapper invented the toilet.)
“Smith (the most common surname in the US) – which would be even more common if all its variations, like Schmidt and Schmitt, were tallied – is among the names derived from occupations. (As recently as 1950, more Americans were employed as blacksmiths than as psychotherapists.)”
Miller is another (it’s an English and Scottish occupational surname for a grain miller. Another possible origin is from the Irish word ‘maillor,’ meaning soldier.)
The very first documented ‘Jones’ in America was in Virginia in 1587. It’s a patronymic surname from the Middle English first names John or Jon, but it is a particularly common surname in Wales. In fact, 10% of Welsh people share the name- despite the fact that there is no letter ‘J’ in the Welsh alphabet.
“The Census Bureau’s analysis found that some surnames were especially associated with race and ethnicity. More than 96 percent of Yoders, Kruegers, Muellers, Kochs, Schwartzes, Schmitts and Novaks were white.”
“Nearly 90 percent of the Washingtons were black, as were 75 percent of the Jeffersons, 66 percent of the Bookers, 54 percent of the Banks and 53 percent of the Mosleys.” (NY Times)
Between 1892 and 1954, over twelve million people entered the USs through the immigration inspection station at Ellis Island, a small island located in the upper bay off the New Jersey coast.
There is a myth that persists in the field of genealogy, or more accurately, in family lore, that family names were changed there. “Nearly all … name change stories are false. Names were not changed at Ellis Island.”
“The proof is found when one considers that inspectors never wrote down the names of incoming immigrants. The only list of names came from the manifests of steamships, filled out by ship officials in Europe.”
“In the era before visas, there was no official record of entering immigrants except those manifests. When immigrants reached the end of the line in the Great Hall, they stood before an immigration clerk with the huge manifest opened in front of him.”
“The clerk then proceeded, usually through interpreters, to ask questions based on those found in the manifests. Their goal was to make sure that the answers matched. (Cannato; NY Public Library)
But some names were changed due to necessity (North American typewriters did not have diacritical markings for letters found in several European languages) …
Inability to spell or carelessness, difficulty in pronouncing or spelling a name (person wrote the name as it sounded to him,) desire to break with the past (new name in new land,) dislike of the original name, desire for material success (fearing a ‘wrong’ name might prevent them from becoming successful or getting a particular job. (RootsWeb)
In the Islands, because their names were not easy to pronounce by the Hawaiians, missionaries were given Hawaiianized names (that sounded somewhat like the original name:)
Hiram Bingham was called Binamu; Asa Thurston was called Tatina; Amos Cooke was called Kuke; Lorenzo Lyons was called Laimana, etc.
These weren’t the only Hawaiianized name changes.
The Chinese-Hawaiian surname was formed by adding a letter or syllable ‘a’ or ‘ah’ to the Chinese given name (or last part of his given name,) rarely his surname.
For example, if a person’s name used in the Chinese style with the surname first is Lau Say Kan, his Hawaiianized name becomes Ah Kan. Later, that may become Akana. (Lai)
Some other examples are: Tang Hung Sin became Ahsin or Akina. Tang Chow became Akau or Akao. Lau Fai became Hapai. (Kai)
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