One of the first things a lot of men did when they came West was change his name. As Philip Ashton Rollins said in his book THE COWBOY, “Many a real name had been bucked from the saddle.” Men of the West recognized this common practice and respected a man’s privacy. If a stranger stated his name as John Smith it was just that. Sometimes a man only volunteered a first name and if he did it was widely accepted that he didn’t want to be known by any other.
They changed their names for a variety of reasons. If he wanted to disappear and leave no trace, a quick name change made it easy.
I’m wondering how many men had multiple wives under different names?
Sometimes a man’s name, especially if he was an immigrant, was difficult to spell and pronounce. People in the West liked to keep things short and to the point. Short names just made things easier and didn’t muddy the water. A man could blend in better.
More often than not, a newcomer to the West was running from the law. A name change kept him from getting caught. He might change his name five or six times, adopting a new name for each section of the country.
Or a man simply might not have liked his name. Maybe it was too sissified or something. In the story I’m currently working on, my hero is an outlaw. The name he’s born with is Marion Applebaum. He decides that’s no self-respecting outlaw would be caught dead with that name wrapped around him so he changes it to Johnny Diamond. He thinks that suits him much better and I happen to agree. Johnny Diamond is a much better fit for him.
A new name meant a fresh start. The slate was wiped clean.
A man could be whoever he wanted to be.
I can certainly understand this. My last name of Broday is a made-up name. When my husband’s grandfather emigrated from Germany during WWI, he changed Broka to Broday so that folks wouldn’t know where he came from. He wanted to protect his wife and kids from harsh reprisals. He also shortened his first name from Albert to Bert. And the name change worked. As far as I know they blended in and had a peaceful existence in America. Mr. Broday left a letter to his kids explaining that he wasn’t changing the name to hide from the law. He didn’t want his kids to fear that they had to be ashamed of their parentage.
I’m just curious about their ability to disguise their thick German accent? Or the dozens of other things that would likey give them away? LOL
Names were much easier to change back then. Today men would have a much harder time with Social Security numbers, the Internet, and law enforcement capabilities.
Also, my husband’s great grandfather on his father’s side changed his name too. He was born in Germany as Johann Louis Freese. Shortly after he arrived in America in the late 1800’s, he became Louis Walter. I never heard the reason behind his name change. I assume it was to be able to fit in better.
These are just two instances that I know happen to have taken place in the same family. It’s only a drop in the bucket to the thousands of people who changed their identities.
Maybe you have a similar story in your past? Are you really who you say you are?
Or maybe you have a favorite story that features a hero or heroine who for some reason changes their name.
Visit me at www.LindaBroday.com
This book is still available if you haven’t already gotten it.
Watch for GIVE ME A TEXAS RANGER in July!!