New Life in America No Longer Means a New Name





For many 19th- and 20th-century immigrants or their children, it was a rite of passage: Arriving in America, they adopted a new identity.

Charles Steinweg, the German-born piano maker, changed his name to Steinway (in part because English instruments were deemed to be superior). Tom Lee, a Tong leader who would become the unofficial mayor of Chinatown in Manhattan, was originally Wong Ah Ling. Anne Bancroft, who was born in the Bronx, was Anna Maria Louisa Italiano.

The rationale was straightforward: adopting names that sounded more American might help immigrants speed assimilation, avoid detection, deter discrimination or just be better for the businesses they hoped to start in their new homeland.

Today, most experts agree, that traditional immigrant gambit has all but disappeared.

“For the most part, nobody changes to American names any more at all,” said Cheryl R. David, former chairwoman of the New York chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association....

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