Read review of the Kirsten Fermaglich’ book by Beth DiNatale Johnson. Kirsten Fermaglich’s groundbreaking work on Jewish name changing recasts popular perceptions of this long-standing practice in the twentieth-century United States.
In emphasizing the significance of names, Fermaglich astutely uses the book’s title as a prelude to her dismantling of the legal, historical, and social layers associated with the process of name changing, as discussed in each of the book’s six chronological chapters. A Rosenberg by Any Other Name alludes to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in which Juliet declares “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet, in her monologue, suggests that Romeo’s surname, Montague, should play no obstacle in their love story. Yet, as Fermaglich argues, names do convey important information about family, culture, and class that can have significant effects on people’s lives. As such, the book’s objective is to “recover the struggles of ordinary men, women, and children in a world that judged them for their names”. A Rosenberg by Any Other Name convincingly examines the enhanced social currency American Jews have experienced when they changed their last, and to a lesser extent, first names, while also revealing that such decisions often came at the expense of interpersonal relations and psychological turmoil.