The Shmooze

French Jews Fight To Change Their Names

By Devra Ferst

  • Print
  • Share Share

In the mid-1930’s, my great uncle, just out of high school and struggling to find a job, came home one day to announce he was changing his last name from Gerstenfeld to Grey. The entire family went along with his decision, and today that family is the Grey family.

My family is not alone. Jews around the globe have changed their names throughout history to help avoid antisemitism, to assimilate and generally to blend in.

But today, some Jews are fighting to change their names back. A recent article in the LA Times reports that close to 30 French Jews, whose families changed their names to more French-sounding ones after World War II, have formed La Force du Nom (The Strength of the Name). The group is petitioning France’s State Council to legally revert their names back to the original, more Jewish-sounding ones.

Unfortunately the French civil code that originally allowed Jewish families to alter their names declares the “impossibility” of changing them back. However, upon receiving requests from members of La Force du Nom last month, the State Council has said it will deal with each query on a case-by-case basis.

Celine Masson is one of the petitioners. Her family changed its name from Hassan when it immigrated to France from Tunisia in the 1960s. An immigration officer asked if they wished to adopt a more French-sounding name. They did not object, nor did many of the other families, some saying they believed they didn’t have a choice.

“I was born a Masson, but the name means nothing,” she told the LA Times. “It carries no history, it says nothing about my family, my roots, where we came from.”

So far, none of the names have been changed back to their original spellings but the group hopes that if one name is changed it will have a domino effect.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: La Force du Nom

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.