In Alisse Waterston’s article World on the Move: Migration Stories, she recounts the numerous names her father took as he traveled around the world: “Across one century, my father Mendeleh from Jedwabne, Poland became Miguelito in Manguito, Cuba, Miguel in Havana, Michael in New York, and don Miguel in San Juan, Puerto Rico” (Waterston).
This statement got me thinking about name changes across cultures not only in the past, but how they affect people today. I recently read a different article about a man in the United States of America named José Zamora, who had been looking for a job for months. On a whim, he changed the name on his resume from “José” to “Joe”, and within the week “his inbox was full” (Matthews). What I find interesting that correlates between the two men is that they both had to change their name to conform to the standards of whatever culture they lived within. Without the name change, life for both of them would have most likely been much more difficult, as José Zamora experienced firsthand.
My own last name is Parant, which I am assuming is some type of derivative of the word “parent”. If my name has been formed from another word or meaning, I’m not sure when—it could have been when my ancestors came to America, or even some time before then.
I’ve heard of many names that were changed once people entered the United States through Ellis Island, a practice I find fascinating. A friend of mine of Eastern European descent lost a number of consonants on the tail end of their last name, for example, presumably because it was too culturally distinct from the American culture. As well, another friend went to study abroad in China recently, and he had to change his so-called American name to one that fit the Chinese culture better.
In order to fully experience the benefits of living in a society, it seems it is necessary to fully conform to that culture, insomuch as changing one’s own name, a supposedly constant identifier. Thus, these people are not only identified as themselves, but also as having a similar cultural background as the people around them.
Alisse Waterston, “World on the Move: Migration Stories”
Cate Matthews, “He Dropped One Letter in His Name While Applying for Jobs, and the Responses Rolled In”