Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What's in a Name? Part 1.

One of the more bizarre documents of American letters is Henry Ford's lengthy anti-semitic diatribe, "The International Jew," which originally appeared as a series of editorials in the Dearborn Independent (link is to Wikipedia entry) from 1920-1922. Most of these were compiled into a series of four books published by the Dearborn Publishing Company, beginning with "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem" (1920). Students of the subject are well aware of the history of the Independent, which Ford himself owned through its parent, the Dearborn Publishing Company, from 1919-1927. The newspaper also reprinted the text of the infamous and fraudulent "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" during its deservedly brief life after Ford's purchase. Reproductions of issues of the Dearborn Independent are viewable at a variety of locations on the Web (e.g., therationalrevolution.net); so are the texts of the original articles and the books.

One place the original articles can be found compiled in their entirety is at the web-site of an aryan supremacy group called "The Church of True Israel." I won't provide a direct link to them here, but you can easily find the site by web-search if you want. Which is actually my point, sort of. That all of this material is transparently available in the public domain, and easily found on the Web, is exactly as it should be. What I find interesting, and somewhat amusing, frankly, was the way I happened to stumble on the texts of Ford's articles, and the The Church of True Israel site, while searching for something else (not an unusual occurrence in Google World).

For the past year or so I've been assembling a web-based version of my family's history, which is viewable, along with a bunch of other bullshit, at theunguardedasylum.com (I realize that as an "advertisement for myself," mentioning it here is about as effective as hiring someone to carry a sandwich signboard into the middle of the Amazon jungle. Nevertheless...the family history can be accessed via the "Family History" link within the site). A particular problem concerning my paternal Grandfather's given name (which I've since sorted out), led me to search the Web using the keywords "jewish names". Among the listing of more or less helpful sites, not so far down, was a link to Page 70 of the text of Henry Ford's articles, this one entitled "The Gentle Art of Changing Jewish Names." Oddly enough, in its own twisted way, the article was directly related to my problem.

Between 1899 and 1921, my Grandfather and at least three of his siblings migrated from their home area in the Carpathian foothills of Central Europe to the Northeastern coast of the United States; upon their arrival in the US, he and his two brothers all changed their surnames from Paktorovics/Paktorovits to Pactovis (a sister took a different name, Weisz, by marriage). Today, as far as I know, there are three descendant clans carrying the Pactovis surname, originating from the same Paktorovics nuclear family (the branch I am in is not very prolific, but the rest are doing fine). There is no mystery about the change and, as far as I can tell, no conspiracy of International Jewry behind it, except that they were certainly being consistent among themselves. As it happened, my grandfather also changed his first name from Salomon to Samuel. This is what I found somewhat puzzling; these two names, though similar, are not etymologically related (Salomon = "Peace"; Samuel = "His name is God"; this is what I was trying to check in my Web search). I have a variety of official documents relating to his life prior to his emigration, as a citizen first of Hungary and then Czechoslovakia (no, he didn't move, the borders did), and in all he is referred to as Salomon or some variant thereof. Why Samuel? I wondered.

The key was in a document that turned out to be, on translation from Hungarian, the original invitation to my grandparents' wedding in 1913. Two words on it turned out to be their pet names, Samu and Melánka. The answer was now obvious: he was already known to his friends and family by the familiar Samu; to officially adopt the name Samuel is not a great stretch from there. Interestingly, in their original wedding contract (Ketuba), written in Aramaic, they are referred to as Shlomo (= Salomon) and Mindl.

So my answer to Ford's article is, Yes, Hank, we do use different names, and change them all the time--sometimes more than once, in different contexts; sometimes deliberately for business or social purposes; sometimes for no other reason than having it imposed on an ancestor by an insistent immigration officer impatient with a mouthful of too many unpronouncable syllables. Do we do this more than anyone else, or for purposes any more dark? Are there not pet names and nicknames in every language? Have not even the most Anglo-Saxon surnames evolved over time, from origins in most cases rustic and rural? Is it really another aspect of that infamous conspiracy of desperate Semites determined to rule the world? Next time, I'll write about my father's name, and in what form conspiracy really enters the picture.
(Note: This article was originally posted on 02 July 2006, and is being reposted now because the original author attribution was lost in the changeover to Google.)

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