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Last Updated: Friday, 20 July 2007, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
The name change game
Sir Elton John, who changed his name for professional reasons

This week the Magazine reported on why the Royal Family changed its name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor, and many readers wrote in about their own family name changes.

We received letters from the descendants of Germans, Jewish and otherwise, and Eastern Europeans who Anglicised to escape discrimination, as well of people of other nationalities who could not get their name past immigration officials, or who faced other problems. Here are 25 of the most interesting.


Eichwald to Elwell: "As a teenaged refugee from Nazi Germany (although his mother was English), my father arrived in London in 1936, but retained his German surname, Eichwald, through university, internment and enlistment in the British forces. However, later transfer from the Pioneer Corps to combat duty in the Royal Armoured Corps was conditional on taking on something more obviously English, hence Elwell, derived from an Australian-born sister-in-law of his mother's, and already adopted by other family members.

"It turned out to be a wise precaution, as during mopping-up operations in Austria after the surrender he found his name on a black list, attributed to his 'high treason' in leaving Germany - it would have meant instant execution had he been captured in combat."
Derek Elwell, Sydney, Australia

Glinowieckis to Abrahams: "My husband's family arrived in the US as the Glinowieckis. After asking their name, the naturalisation officer said: 'I don't care what your name was; you are one of Abraham's.' The family has been known as Abrahams ever since."
Susan, St Paul, MN

Enderberg to Gardiner: "I found out that my original family name was Enderberg (from Gotland, Sweden). However it was changed to Gardiner, picked out of a phone book in order to increase the chances of employment. I find this very sad, especially in a more and more globalised world, where people increasingly dress the same and speak the same language. I have now reverted to using my original family name."
Peter Gardiner, Hong Kong

Walsh to Breathnach: "In Ireland people's names were forcibly changed from the Gaelic forms to Anglicised forms early in the occupation as efforts to eradicate the Irish language and customs etc were made. I have changed mine back to the Gaelic version of Cillian Breathnach despite the anglicised version of it, Killian Walsh, being much easier to recognise and pronounce."
Cillian Breathnach, Wexford, Ireland

Schoenwald to Shinwell: "My Jewish grandmother's family name was originally Schoenwald, which was changed to Shinwell sometime in the late 19th Century. My grandfather's family name was Blitz, which remained unchanged. I suppose it could have been changed to Bliss or something similar, but I'm rather glad it wasn't, personally."
Stephanie Blitz, Toronto, Canada

Nilsen to Nelson: "My husband's grandfather arrived from Norway as Torolf Nilsen. His name was entered on entry documents by officials as Ted Nelson. From that day he did not like anyone to call him by his real name, believing that adopting the new name he had been given was part of the business of becoming American."
Pauline Nelson, Santa Barbara, California, USA

Breitkopf to Broadhead: "My family changed our name after my great great grandfather was assaulted in a Yorkshire mining village in 1915. The name of Breitkopf was literally translated to Broadhead from thereon after."
Graham, Colchester

Smith to Ellingham: "My former name was Roy Smith. In 1970 a Vancouver bank started withdrawing funds from my account to make payments on another Roy Smith's car. I decided to ditch the Smith and was advised by a friend to join a numerology cult which suggested 12 new first names and 12 new surnames, any combination of which would guarantee me a 'balanced life'. After tinkering around with scores of possibilities I came up with a new name. I was nearly disowned by some friends and family members but have never had any bank mix-ups since."
Rae Ellingham, Vancouver, Canada

Laufer to Stern: "My grandfather started out as Saul Moshe Laufer in Europe. He arrived with his middle and last names switched in the translation from Yiddish to English. Then he went to open a bank account and was laughed at for his last name. So he changed it, to the name of the department store truck passing by. He ended up Morris Saul Stern."
Sarah, Michigan, US

Leitprants to Lybrand: "My family, Leitprants, came to the colony of South Carolina in the 1750s because they had been Lutherans living in a Catholic part of Germany, and there were consequences otherwise. They would later change their name to the more Anglo-sounding name Lybrand after the patriots won the Revolution because of the previous loyalties of German-Americans to the Crown."
Phillip, Fort Benning, Georgia, US

LaMater to DeLaMater: "In the States, after the French helped us out during the Revolutionary War it was popular to French-ify your name. So my ancestors added 'De' to their already French name and went from LaMater (the master) to DeLaMater (of the master - the servant) - seems a bit stupid really."
Alyssa, Little Stoke, South Glos

Lonneger to Leneker: "When I first found our family tree. I noted that right around World War I my last name suddenly shifted from being strongly German (Lonneger complete with umlaut) to a spelling that duplicated an old English surname dating back to the Norman Conquest (Leneker)."
Mark, New York, US

Rubenstein to Rubens: "An ancestor took the '-stein' off the end of his surname when the Lusitania was sunk, because he wasn't German and he thought that their behaviour was despicable."
Oliver, London, UK

Carlsson to Liljedahl "When one of my husband's ancestors joined the Norwegian army, they changed his surname from Carlsson because they said there were too many Carlssons already. They gave him the surname Liljedahl which I believe means 'Lily of the Valley' and the family retain the name to this day."
Linda, Liverpool

Wiederman to Whiteman and back again: "My wife's cousin, originally from Czechoslovakia, has just changed the family name back to Wiederman, after 50 years as Whiteman. Now that the bogeymen are no longer the Germans, it seems safe to do so. He is proud of his roots, but whenever a family is at risk, discretion is best."
David Andrews, Bath, UK

Mosenthal to Morten: "My grandfather changed his name from Mosenthal to Morten when he embarked for France in 1940 as a British Army officer. It was not however, to sound less German. It was in case he was taken prisoner by the Germans who would have immediately identified his ancestry as German-Jewish. It was good fortune that he did change his name, for he was taken prisoner as part of the rearguard at Dunkirk and spent the next five years in German prisoner of war camps."
Charles, London, UK

Woffington to Waughington: "My great-grandmother changed the family name in 1915 from Woffington to Waughington because she thought the name looked and sounded German. The name originated in the north of England and my family came to Wales in the 17th Century via Ireland."
Mark Waughington, Pontypridd

Locatelli to Locatell: "My grandfather grew up in England, married an English girl, had English children, fought through World War II with the British Army and then found that he needed to change his name from Locatelli to the less Italian-sounding Locatell when he opened his pharmacy after the war. Even then he lost some custom because certain people thought that dark skin, a big nose and a 'funny' name made him 'a Jew'."
Andrew Woodcock, Cork, Ireland

Verbanic to Werbaneth: "My great grandparents came to America from Slovenia, and the family name was Verbanic. My grandfather and his brothers lived in a German neighbourhood and went to a Catholic school taught by Irish nuns, who decided to Americanise the name to Werbaneth. Being obedient to the Church, the parents went along with it, and changed their last name too. Now I have a strange German-Irish-American bastardisation of a Slovenian-Croatian family name, all the funnier since most of my ancestors were really Irish."
Jim Werbaneth, Pittsburgh, US

Dombrowsky to Davis: "As a West of Scotland Protestant, I was very happy to marry my Jewish husband in the 60s, to the refrain of family members who were relieved that 'at least I wasn't marrying a Catholic'. My husband's family had assimilated their Russian/Polish surname of Dombrowsky to Davis. Now that my daughter has discovered this, she is really sorry that she wasn't born with that exotic surname - it would have gone down very well in academic circles. Maybe she'll change her surname back to the original."
Janice Davis, Orpington, Kent

Perchelli to Pockerty: "My mother traced our family tree, she knew that 'somewhere' on her father's side there was Italian blood. Many Italian-type features occurred in several family members. Her father said that the family name was Perchelli. We all come from Cornwall/West Devon, but for years found no record. However, by chance my mother found her man. The customs official in the 1700s in Cornwall simply wrote what he thought he heard: Pockerty."
Max Allen, West Bridgford

Solomons to Sanders: "My father changed his name from Solomons to Sanders when he joined up in 1940 as my mother was frightened he would be caught and, with a Jewish name on his papers, end up in a concentration camp rather than a prisoner of war camp."
Diane Block, London

Malysz to Malish: "My surname was changed from Malysz to Malish when I was 12 years old. My father came to the UK at the end of WWII from Poland. There are many Malyszs still in this part of Poland but the name has its origins in Hungary and Russia. My father changed the spelling to the anglicised version Malish as he felt his family were discriminated against in the early 60s. I am considering reverting back to using Malysz and so are my children."
Errol Malish, Normanton, West Yorks

Duffy to Campbell: "Irish immigrants did this to fit in and avert anti-Irish attention. My mother's family name changed from Duffy to Campbell in the mid-1800s. My father's grandfather joined the British army in the 1890s and had his name changed, because it was easier to write, from MacMurrough to Morrow."
Matt, Edinburgh UK

Kasofsky to Phillips: "My father's parents came to the UK from the Jewish Pale in Russia around about 1908 - when dad was a baby - their name was Kasofsky and they changed it to Phillips because my grandfather's first name was Philip. My dad's brothers were all violinists. I believe the reason for the name change was so they would be accepted in their profession rather better."
Pearl Chubb, High Wycombe, UK




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