Name, Pseudonym, and the “Hebrew Problem”

I translated a part of an article by Romanian Jew, Leon Volovich, on how and why Jews hide behind ethnic sounding names. Would have done the whole thing but it’s pretty late, and I just found it humorous enough to share.

Original article here:

As in all of Europe, the Jews of Romania changed or “Romanianized” their name not only out of “fear,” but out of a legitimate desire for integration into the host population through name-changing.

Incidentally, the Hebrew name to be adapted or replaced was not usually a native Hebrew name, but just another name adopted after the culture of the country they emigrated from (e.g. Austria, Tsarist Russia).

Hence the frequency of Hebrew names of German or Austrian origin that indicate trades (Schneider, Schuster), or place of origin (Berliner, Leipziger, Posen).


In the Polish environment, you see the same phenomenon: Warszawski, Krakowski, Poznanski.

In Russia and Ukraine, Hebrew names inherited the “-ich” suffix: Moscovich, Leibovich… Volovich.

The negative reactions to this – from banter to sarcasm – on the part of the Jewish community manifest themselves only when a Jew, by changing his name, tries to hide or even deny his Jewish identity.

Especially when the new name is painfully “authentic,” or “of the place,” or even when the Jew takes the name of national celebrities. […]

A Freudian anecdote

Jewish folklore is filled with anecdotes on the subject. Freud sensed, as expected, the psychoanalytical potential of these assimilation processes of the Jews by the majority.

He even gathered such Jewish anecdotes about failed attempts of identity camouflage. For example, the hero of one of his little stories – a Jewish Galician named Katzman – decides to put an end to the inconveniencies of a Jewish identity, fatally betrayed by the Hebrew-sounding name.


He moves to Paris and immediately demands the “Frenching” of his name through literal translation: Katz = chat, Mann = l’homme. Together, through phonetic transcription, they create the sounds [ʃa lɔm] “shalom!”

It is a way of illustrating the inevitable failure of the attempt to hide your Jewish identity. In one way or another, it will unwillingly surface as a stigma that will follow you. That, or others around you will take care to remind you of it, or divulge the “compromising” secret.

What’s the takeaway from this article?

Jews don’t even use their “real” real names in the countries they emigrate FROM. Six million layers of camouflage.

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