Searching for a New Jewish Family Name

Instead of choosing one family of origin over another, my husband and I sought out to find a name that represents both our cultures.

I grew up as an Eastern European Jew in New York. My husband grew up in New England as the child of Dutch and Swedish Protestants. We live in Maine. Less than 1% of Mainers are Jewish. An identity I had held loosely suddenly became important.

By working through our values, my husband and I recognized we wanted to face the world together. One part of that is a shared faith and another part means the creation of a joint identity. My husband converted to Judaism. Therefore, his name is a Jewish name because it belongs to a Jew. I offered to take his surname, but he didn’t want me to, always puzzled that the women he knew celebrated their independence by keeping their father’s surname. But as we looked ahead, neither of us wanted to have a child that didn’t share our surname.

Some of our friends hyphenate. Some of our friends kept their names. Some combine their surnames into something brand new. We also have friends who’ve decided to postpone this decision until they have a child.

Over several months we realized it wasn’t that I wanted to keep my family surname, and it wasn’t that I was against his family’s name. The two of us were looking to create our own name to express where we both came from, what we’ll mean to each other and how the world will see us.

And so it seemed that we had to come up with something new.

First, we virtually met with a Yiddish interpreter who spent time asking us questions about our values, interests, family genealogy and the sounds we liked. The interpreter came back with pages of beautifully researched names and their origins. But my husband couldn’t see himself in them. We wanted a name that accurately described our whole family, that celebrated both of our cultures’ naming traditions and meanings.

One of his friends insidiously suggested we change our name to Gold, as Jews and Vikings love money. It was painful for both of us, to say the least.

We sat on the decision for a few months. I offered again to take his surname; he reiterated this wasn’t what he wanted. What was much harder was trying to make an affirmative choice that included a name change while feeling guilty about hurting his dad’s feelings. While his mother hadn’t taken his father’s surname, he was proud to be his father’s son. He didn’t want his family to get erased. While we have LGBTQ friends who have created their own names, my husband didn’t have a model for this choice, as his childhood community viewed it as a rejection.

Still, we searched.

Jewish Last Name
Julie K. Gray

Every summer since he could swim, my husband reveled in the days he could jump off the rocks into the ocean at high tide. The day before our wedding, he jumped into the ocean alone. We held our wedding ceremony overlooking those rocks. After our wedding ceremony, we leapt off the rocks into the sea hand-in-hand. For my husband, our makeshift mikveh solidified our partnership more firmly than our ketubah or ceremony had. The ocean sanctified our new family.

We consulted with a Jewish Swedish interpreter who spoke Swedish, Hebrew and English. She came back with a list of names, including a name that looked appealing: Ankarehartz. Ankare means anchor in Swedish, hartz means hearts in Yiddish. I wrote it out for my husband on a whiteboard and he balked. It looked like I was writing “Azkaban.” So, we played around. Ankartz? It was a name of a company in Israel. And then my husband found it: Ankhartz. Both of our hearts, our cultures, anchored together in one word.

This journey has not been an indoor game to get us through the pandemic. We started working through this concept two years ago before we even got engaged. On our walks along the water, we unraveled the twisted knots of tradition and culture, trying to identify which beliefs were ours and which were not worth carrying with us.

Instead of choosing one family of origin over another, we unite, look towards the future, and celebrate the family we are becoming.

My husband may be socially sanctioned for his choice. He might choose to use his given surname in some social contexts.

Currently, I’m waiting for my birth certificate to arrive from New York to successfully file all our legal documents for the name change. I’m eager for this years-long journey to be official. And yes, we plan to send out a pronunciation guide with our announcement.

Rosie Ankhartz

Rosie Hoffman (she/her) is a social justice advocate and proud Reconstructionist Jew. Currently, she is studying to be a speech-language pathologist, working on her Master's in communication sciences and disorders at Emerson College. Rosie lives in Maine with her husband.

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