Spell Checks Blamed for Name Changes in the 1800s

Annoying spell checks, attached to ancient punch card data programming at Ellis Island, are blamed for the bastardization of millions of ethnic surnames during the 19th Century.

This archaic method of computing names and assorted information on arriving migrants worked well enough since the modern concept of legal or illegal immigration did not emerge as part of the federal bureaucracy until 1921.

“One simply got off the boat, passed a series of health exams, and walked onto the sidewalks of America,” said a historian whose family name was changed from Peckleharring to Fish in 1838. “”The robber barons needed low wages workers. Citizenship was a whole other ball of wax.”

Groups most curtly affected include Irish, Italian, Jews and Chinese with the later escaping further reproach due to an unfamiliar alphabet and the distinct characters used in their names. The hordes of Irish, Italians, Jews and Eastern Europeans that landed here, were quickly processed, due in part to expediency but just as much due to boredom and little power trips on the part of customs officials on the docks.

Many skirted the spell checks and kept their real names only after bribes were on the table. You could stay a Genovese or an O’Harahan if you greased the right palms. Otherwise if your name be Mikhail you were now Michaels or if it was once Berkowitz you were now named Berry.

My own great-grandfather’s name was O’Healy but was changed to Haley. He didn’t care one way of the other. He is purported to have told my father that “I had 25 cents in my pocket and I wasn’t getting back on that death ship. They could call me Cromwell for all I cared.”

The trusty spell checks mindlessly corrected the spellings of exotic and foreign names to make them more American. As a byproduct of the confusion this often allowing the bearer a better chance to assimilate and embrace vertical mobility. These modifications and adjustments, while further separating recent arrivals from their culture, may have been the first signs of the homogeneity that would follow.

Imagine showing up named Panicucci only to wake up the next day as Mr. Smith or escaping an immigrant ship under the name of Diarmuid to find you are now called Ms. Jones. Sometimes the names were shortened as we see within the Jewish (Goldfreid to Gold) and Eastern European groups (Adamczyk to Adams) or anglicized as we see in the ranks of Irishmen and Italians.

The many Africans that arrived beforehand (16th to 18th Centuries) had no discernible last names to begin with. They often adopted the family names associated their new “lifestyle”. Others embraced the names of leaders like Washington and Jefferson. We will discuss that mess just as soon as all of the Confederate monuments are destroyed and racism is thus terminated within our borders.

Many of the names were, of course, simply mangled and misinterpreted by a poorly trained and uneducated immigration work force akin to our own Homeland Security.

“One must fully comprehend that these were manually driven spell checkers without the benefit of communist wind power and solar energy,” said Dr. Fish from an earlier paragraph. “Hell, most of the people back then didn’t even have passwords.”

Beyon’ Dynamite

Filed Under: Lifestyles at Risk


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