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Assimilation Names: From Yaakov to Jacob

Almost all of our favorite names come from other countries; however, we generally use English or Anglicized versions of them. These assimilation names have always been very much a part of the name pool in the United States, where the names of immigrants—especially their surnames—were changed more often than not when they landed here from their countries of origin.

Alphabet Soup

Assimiliation names are those that are adopted by immigrants in place of their original given names.

What's in a Name

If there are any particular ethnic groups that could be looked upon as trendsetters for this naming fashion, it would have to be African-Americans and members of the Islamic faith. Both groups have been at the forefront of the ethnic name movement for quite some time, choosing names that reflected long-lost cultures and names that con-nected them more closely to their faith.

Name Dropping

Carrying a name from your own ethnic heritage can connect your child to his or her ancestors in a very powerful way. While locating these names can be difficult, the payoff is often worth it.

The need to fit in was so strong that if the names of these new citizens weren't changed when they arrived, they often did it themselves, adopting English-style monikers that would help them blend into their new culture and surroundings. In many cases, they exchanged names that were powerful connections to their roots for names that gave little (if any) clue to their ethnic origin. If, for some reason, these immigrants did retain their names of origin, they wouldn't pass them on to their children, preferring instead to bestow more American-sounding monikers.

But the times are not just a'changin' (to paraphrase Bob Dylan). They have changed! Not only are there more people from different countries living in the U.S. than ever before, they're also taking more pride in their background and feeling increasingly comfortable in reflecting this heritage through the names they choose. And the trend doesn't stop here; third- and fourth-generation Americans are now just as likely to return to their native countries for name inspirations as relative newcomers are. All the genealogy books flying off bookstore shelves are proof positive of the strong need that many inhabitants of the great American melting pot have to understand their ancestry and reconnect with the past.

Keep in mind that a foreign name can simply be a foreign-language variation of a name that is commonly found in the American name pool, such as Ekaterina for Katherine, or it can be a name that's used in a foreign country that isn't commonly found in other parts of the world. The former, as you can probably guess, can be fairly easy to figure out; in fact, you'll find a number of the most popular names in the U.S. and their foreign variations right in this chapter.

Tracking down the others can be more difficult—but not impossible, especially if you know where to look. You'll find a number of possibilities in the The World Tour of Names.

More on: Choosing a Name


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baby Names © 1999 by Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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