s entered America
in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they faced an immediate problem. As they were coming largely from Germany
and other countries in Eastern Europe
, their names were long and unfamiliar to the English
s. Names were intentional
ly, completely misunderstood
. There are records
and of the name "Yankele"
becoming "John Kelly"
. Sometimes, immigrants elected to translate their names into English; an example is "Schneider"
(and often "Taylor"
), since that is the German origin
The story goes that there was a Jewish
immigrant who had decided to change his name on arrival in America
, a common practice at the time. With the confusion
of the moment, however, the immigrant forgot
his new name. When the inspector asked him for his name, the man panicked and blurt
ed out, in Yiddish
, "Schon Vergessen!"
, which loosely means "I've already forgotten it!"
. The English
-speaking inspector did not understand Yiddish
, but assumed that the man had given his answer.
The inspector entered the name in his records, and prompt
ly welcomed Sean Ferguson to America.
This story has been dismissed as apocryphal and there don't seem to be any records of the man actually existing; but it's a wonderful tale. Still, if you ever meet any Jewish Fergusons, you know exactly how they came about.