Home  »  The American Language  »  Page 334

H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 334

extraordinary rancor when he bears a name that is unmistakably foreign and hence difficult to the native, and open to his crude burlesque. Moreover, the general feeling penetrates the man himself, particularly if he be ignorant, and he comes to believe that his name is not only a handicap, but also intrinsically discreditable—that it wars subtly upon his worth and integrity. 27 This feeling, perhaps, accounted for a good many changes of surnames among Germans and Jews of German name upon the entrance of the United States into the war. But in the majority of cases, of course, the changes so copiously reported—e. g., from Bielefelder to Benson, and from Pulvermacher to Pullman—were merely efforts at protective coloration. The immigrant, in a time of extraordinary suspicion and difficulty, tried to get rid of at least one handicap. 28
  This motive constantly appears among the Jews, who face an anti-Semitism that is imperfectly concealed and may be expected to grow stronger hereafter. Once they have lost the faith of their fathers, a phenomenon almost inevitable in the first native-born generation, they shrink from all the disadvantages that go with Jewishness, and seek to conceal their origin, or, at all events, to avoid