By Bob Odenkirk | Guest Writer
Recently, during refurbishment of Ellis Island, an aged document was found in the wall. It was an internal directive, aimed at intake officers and dated January 2, 1908.
TO: All Intake Officers
RE: The Proper Recording of Immigrant Surnames
Welcome back from your New Year’s day vacation. We hope your family had a wonderful feast with thick breadcrusts and jellied meats, and we hope you’re not still drunk.
Let’s be honest, we’re getting slammed, guys. We processed nearly 12,000 people in one day last year – that’s a record. So, we get it, you’re working fast and it’s a high pressure job, you barely have time to eat your rotten apple or stinky cheese rind that your wife packed for you. As a result, things can get sloppy.
It has come to our attention that, in referencing the ship’s manifest’s and filling out the forms for the various immigrant individuals and families, some remarkable surname alterations have been noticed that are outside the usual simplification for clarity’s sake. This must be addressed.
AS YOU ALREADY KNOW, when immigrants arrive, many, if not most, are unable to speak English clearly. We understand and appreciate the challenges this presents to you in getting accurate spellings, and in filling out the requisite forms and shooing them out the door. Additionally, many have hacking coughs and are swarming with disease, so you want to get them away from each other and yourself as soon as is possible. Some, if not most, are pick-pockets and you want to process these swiftly so you can check that your pockets are still intact. We get it.
We are all working towards quicker processing of fresh Americans – but there is one aspect of this effort that I insist you take pause and perform deliberatively and seriously. That particular aspect of processing is the ACCURATE RECORDING OF SURNAMES. Put simply, the headline is this; STOP RENAMING PEOPLE. Just use the names they give you and work a bit harder to get the spelling right. Stop rushing this and definitely stop having “fun” with it.
A prime example, whoever the poet is who named the Polish Mill Workers “Grist” should quit it. Clever, but also kind of rude.
Shortening of names is understandable. LENGTHENING is not! Last week someone changed a Dutchman’s name from “Berkenbosch” to “Berkenboschylbingbingbong” and then dubbed a polish family “Kowalchickychacky” from “Kowalcyk”. That’s not right, guys. It’s funny, I’ll admit, but it’s not right, and it will not even fit on many forms down the line.
Always try to phonetically connect the new name with the old one, don’t just JUMBLE THE LETTERS! That’s lazy and very confusing. If an Italian family named “Falaguerra” is passing through, name them, “Fala” or “Guerra”, don’t name them “Fugallarreolioli” or some other mess like that. LESS IS MORE, is the rule to abide by.
Try to stay within ethnicity. Last month we sent out a bunch of Italians with irish names. One Italian family by the name of “Accardi” walked out of here as the “O’Brien’s”! Same thing happened to the “Van Der Meijer’s” from Denmark – more “O’Brien’s”! Stop it! This is random and misleading and will cause no end of headaches.
Obviously, OBVIOUSLY, don’t name other people with your own name! That’s just lazy. O’Brien, I’m talking to you.
Do you really want your grandchild to marry into a family of “Petridishes” or “Stinkshitts” or “Pickpockets”? Think long-term, please!
Don’t call people by what they look like to you! These are surnames, people! Surnames! That means these people have to live with these names for the rest of their lives, and YOU have to live with them, too! Do you really want your grandchild to marry into a family of “Petridishes” or “Stinkshitts” or “Pickpockets”? Think long-term, please! It doesn’t matter if it’s a compliment, either. Stop naming pretty girls “Darling”, got it, O’Brien?
And no one. NO ONE. Should be renamed “Immigrant”. That’s beyond lazy. It’s rude, thoughtless and dumb. If any of you rename one more person or family “Immigrant” you will be fired. Not kidding. But it is, kind of, funny.
Officers, remember, a name is a precious thing, it should leave room for the individual while also connecting them to their heritage. Renaming immigrants is an art, to be done with sensitivity and nuance, not with a sledgehammer. This isn’t a clown show to make each other laugh, to see who can come up with the “craziest” name of the day. These are human beings, and none of them wants to have to go around with the last name, “Shtuperkeppalski” or crap like that. So, bottom line, quit screwing around.
Hopefully these general provisos will encourage thoughtful, quality, renaming. But just to be clear, here are some names that are NOT ALLOWED to be given to ANYONE, ANYMORE.
LIST OF DISALLOWED NAMES
– NOTE: if they are holding their hat at the time, this is acceptable.
Keep this list with you, and if you are caught renaming any person, child, or family, from this list you will be cited and reprimanded by being assigned to the quarantine rooms for an indefinite period. I’m talking to you, O’Brien.
Immigrations officer Dan Fugallarreolioli ♦