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A Rosenberg by Any Other Name?

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Burst Details

A Rosenberg by Any Other Name?

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3 months ago

Automatic TRANSCRIPT

I'm Jason La Steak and I'm really excited to welcome Geraldine. Good a fan and Kirsten from left to the podcast today. To talk about Kirsten's book a Rosenberg by any other name. A history of Jewish name changing America Josie could offend. It's a scholar of modern your studies currently teaching at American University. She received her. Phd In history from Brandeis University in two thousand eighteen and her research is focused on migration gender and the intersection of law and religion in French. American Jewish history. And we're also joined of course by Kirstin from Agla who's an associate professor at Michigan State University's Department of History her book Rosenberg by any other name. Which we're GonNa talk about today explores the history of name changing in the US in the twentieth century and her first book American Dreams and not nightmares looked at secular Jewish intellectuals. Use of the Holocaust in the early nineteen sixties. Thanks Jason I'm Geraldine. I'm very excited to talk with Kirsten today about her book on Jewish name changing in the United States. I was really fascinated to read Christian books because he deals with so many different things. And one thing that really stood out is the question of the types of economic and social anti-semitism that juice faced in the twentieth century. And this is a story that has been obscured both in how American Jews tell their own story and how they really name changing itself. But it's also a topic that has been obscured largely in the history of American Jews. And so a lot of the discussion with Kirsten really centered on the question of how everyday life of Jews in America were is shaped by anti-semitism and how American Jews del their own story in their recounting of how juice change their names in the twentieth century. I hope you'll enjoy this conversation. Kirsten hiding for joining the Jewish history matters podcast. Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited so I actually wanted to start with a joke. That's awesome so it's actually a French. Joke offense Jewish joke as I understand it. So it's a story of Mister Meshu Shoe Katzman. We'll goes to the French authorities in the early twentieth century because he wants to change his name. A finds that cats minis for to foreign sounding Fort Jewish sounding so he asked no. Would it be possible to change the name and the French official tells him yes? Sure Okay so what's your name Katzman. So he breaks cats on into to any asked him. So what does that mean in German and the Jewish men says it means Shah Cat in English Okay what does men mean and the men answers it means lum the men so essential official says okay. Katzman you are no no longer cats men but shallow brilliant. It is marvelous because it's really about how your revealing I see in the process of trying to conceal it as you say in the book. Jewish name changing is no laughing matter. We have a lot of jokes involving name changing but it is in fact a very serious topic and so I wanted to start the conversation by asking you why it is such a serious topic and also what do you mean by name changing because I think the readers need to understand what that meant in the American context so the first thing that's really important to say is I only looked at one archive when space for name changing which was official name changing in civil court. It wound up being incredibly rich space. But there's lots of other places in lots of other ways that people could change their names for example. When I started talking about my work I had immigration. Historians say but this is not the only kind of name changing that happens if immigration memoirs you can see and I teach for my students memoirs where people decide to change their name on the shop floor. You know all the people they work with at the sweatshop. I'll sit around and spend the day talking about what your new American names should be. There's definitely kind of informal name changing people sort of take on names and the US among if not the than among the most flexible places in name changing you can really informally. Change Your name to anything. You want without any kind of permission or official status whatsoever. And it's legal this Anglo American law that the US actually took it even to a greater extent in England in some ways on sort of informal name changing people's selecting names because they like them because it sounds good. Those actually are are themselves legal so people can really change their names to anything so because I was using official name changes in city in civil court. I was looking at people who chose to do so officially who chose to be having the state know about their name changing and so- choosing to look at official name. Tinging meant that I was also looking not just at the state it wound up meaning also that I was looking at other kinds of people who might be interested in your name private employers or universities or other kinds of places and spaces where they might these surveillance you. I think maybe watching you questioning. Why your name looks different from one place from the other? What I saw gave us a real insight into the impact of the anti-ageing and the importance of it which is actually kind of your second question right. Why is this important? Why is it serious? A lot of what I've found in the archives. I mean I think a lot of people would have found it boring people's reasons for changing their names if you didn't spend a lot of time looking at them. They were very boring. I want to change my name because it's hard to spell because it's hard to pronounce equal can't remember it. It's hard to say on the telephone. You know a lot of sort of things like that so you had to kind of read through the lines but also some sad stories people who would talk about being excluded in the military people who talked about their employer telling them they had to change their name when they got promoted people who wanted to erase memories of having escaped Germany during World War Two. There are a lot of those sad stories and in other kinds of readings. I did oral history is that I did. It's not always you know. Sort of a tragedy. But there's a lot of lingering sadnesses there's a lot of lingering ambivalence and I think the larger part of the story is people feeling like they had to do this. Some of the interesting part of looking at the state and the government's interest in doing this right and sort of making name changing available to people so easily right so readily you can change your name. Go ahead and change. Her name is volunteerism. The circumstances under which they're changing their names are not free and open they are constrained. They are significantly constrained not forcibly coerced. But they are constrained and sometimes they are being asked to or told to change their names by employers by military officers by defense industry contractors by people who kind of represent some kind of power and have interactions with Stay or certainly with their possibilities of getting a job and living in America. I think it's interesting that everybody's treated this so much as a joke that no scholar studied it. You know which I find really interesting right. That people have so far. Brush this and treated it as something that was not serious that was insignificant or Hurace. Something that was not really important so you actually mentioned the state a few times so I wanted to ask you about the state. What's at stake in controlling names and name changes from a state perspective so the federal government begins asking about name tinges voluntarily on Naturalization Petitions in nineteen of Sex. It is voluntary. It's just a line on your naturalization petition so I only did a very limited look at naturalization petitions but I found at least a few where somebody clearly had changed their name so that it looked very different but clearly the people setting this out that they didn't fill out a name change like the government didn't see this change in spelling as actually being a change in name. So there's a certain amount of laxity that European grants are being treated with in their ability to change their names so my story more begins with really World War One and then especially the Inter war period and World War Two and it spirals as the welfare state as the government begins to be concerned with issues of security and be concerned that the people standing in front of whatever federal worker may not be who they size so one of the most important things I think that leads to the nineteen forties in particular being. Sort of the place. Where you see. More of these official petitions being submitted than any other time in the twentieth century is that the government decides that during World War Two. It actually happened in nineteen ninety eight. They begin having defense. Contractors require birth certificates on so they can ensure the safety of their defense plates. So you see beginning in the nineteen thirties forties this kind of spiraling new. People start to have to produce their birth certificates in order to get jobs to become a part of the war effort which is where the jobs are happening and then as people begin to register for the draft or as they begin to be officers they are getting inconsistent right. It's not I don't think this is every single person who goes to apply to become an officer or to register for the draft or even to try to work for the defense industry but what you get is just more and more people who are getting defense contractors or officers or rotc people or whoever saying. Oh your name doesn't match you know you're going to have troubles you know you need to come back. And produce a birth certificate that matches so some of this is about security right security as the country is going to war and I think some of it is just about the government beginning to look to documents. They are trying more during the welfare state especially during the war to keep track of. Who's who I didn't see a lie. That was necessarily pushed by the Alien Registration. Act But that is something that is starting to begin to question people who have not become citizens yet so my gases that is playing a sub textual role in some people's decisions to do this. The state is beginning to keep track of people and so this kind of very open ended name policy which was working really to sort of bring white immigrants into the country and enfold them seamlessly as the US goes to war as it begins to offer benefits like welfare benefits but also especially as it begins to go to a second war it begins to want to keep track of people and it's using names as part of that way of kind of keeping track of