Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Steve Finds an Actual Factual Error

A Canadian columnist offers these examples of people having their names changed by immigration officers. Too bad they're fictional.

A Chinese gentleman whose name is Jacob Rosenberg explained how he came by this name. “When I entered the country, the immigration officer asked me my name. I said Saim Ting. So he wrote down the name of the Jewish man who was in line ahead of me.”

An elderly Jewish gentleman when asked for his name at immigration had a senior moment and replied, “Shoin fargessen (can’t remember).” So that’s how he got his name — Shaun Ferguson! [Link]
This last example reminds me of a recent post by Steve Danko, in which he examined the marriage record of Joseph Koscinczyk.
What’s so interesting about this record? Well, Joseph’s mother’s maiden name is listed as “Niewiem”, which is not a Polish surname at all. “Nie wiem” is a Polish sentence that means “I don’t know”.

It appears that, when asked for his mother’s maiden name, Joseph answered in Polish, ”Nie wiem”, and the clerk dutifully recorded that response in the register.

Miriam Robbins


Another example of this is the Dutch surname "Zondervan." In the Netherlands, there are many names that start with "van," and it is actually used in place of the word "name." You can ask someone what their "van" is and they will tell you their name.

In 1811, Napoleon was in control of the Netherlands, and he required all the Dutch to take a surname and register it with the (French) authorities. Surnames were not in common use, although there were some Dutchmen who used them. Most used patronyms, however. At the time of surname registration, the magistrate would ask, "What is your name?" Many would respond, "Ik zonder van" (I am without a name). Their name was then registered as Zondervan!

There is even a Zondervan Publishing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a community with a high population of descendants of Dutch immigrants.


I wonder if there are equivalent stories about any English surnames. Perhaps there's a clever explanation for the name "Blank."

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