Thursday, November 2, 2023

What's in a Name?


What's in a name, that we should think it must remain unchanged from one end of life to the other? 

My paternal grandmother Sophie had an older brother named John. Well, now that I think about it, Uncle John's name couldn't really be John, because he was born in Poland. But I never knew that, so I couldn't possibly have known that his name at birth should actually have been Jan; that was part of the family secret that the grandkids were never supposed to know.

Uncle John, having lived in New York City since he was nine, was one of those immigrant children with one foot solidly on American ground, but another figurative foot still anchored in the "Old Country"—which in his case would have been the Province of Posen in the now-non-existent realm called Prussia. With that in mind, I suppose it would never have made him blink twice to think he would grow up to marry someone named Bronisława. 

Bronisława Aktabowska, on the other hand, had been born in "Jersey"—not the Jersey you might think of when dreaming of an out-of-the way vacation to an island nation in the English Channel, but the "new" state neighboring the city whose New York accent renders the name more like "Joisey" than Jersey. Thus, the American-born Bronisława preferred that she be called Blanche—though no list I could find provided any such English equivalent for her Polish name—making research on this family line so very tentative without a confirming document making the two identities, well, identical.

I could find Bronisława listed by the name Blanche as early as 1900, two years after her immigrant parents had made the move with their seven children from New Jersey to nearby Brooklyn, New York. There they were, in the 1900 census, on North Sixth Street: older brother John, younger brothers James, William and Frank, baby sister Veronica—plus a mis-identified "daughter" Gussie, who most likely was Blanche's five year old brother Gustav.

Not long after the family appeared in New York State's 1905 census, Blanche's father Felix died, leaving his wife "Nellie" a widow with the massive problem of caring for a family which now included ten children. Perhaps it was no surprise, then, to see Blanche glad to say "I do" to a husband of her own. Yet, unlike Aunt Rose in our research example last month, who gained citizenship when she married a native-born American, Blanche's marriage to John Laskowski put her in the opposite predicament: she became one of the family members named when John applied for citizenship in 1923.

Just as much as Bronisława Aktabowska had morphed her identity to become Blanche Laskowski, her mother "Nellie" had also reinvented herself from the foreign-sounding name of Aniela. And, years later, several of her brothers felt it to be more opportune for business ventures to change their surname from Aktabowski—admittedly a mouthful—to the snappier and more easy-to-remember Hark.

Whatever the name each of these in-laws of Uncle John chose to go by, they still represented the same individual—at least, I think that's who they were. This will be the month to run all these details past currently-available documentation to see whether that assumption about those names still holds up.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...