(photo credit: Courtesy)
French citizens who want to return to their former Jewish surnames scored a
victory on Wednesday when, for the first time, the Justice Ministry gave them
its permission. Following the decision, a Mr. Bouché will become
Mr. Weill while a Mr. Didier will be Mr. Landesman.
“Until now we
could not go back to our old names,” said Celine Masson, one of the leaders of
La Force du Nom, an organization which lobbied the government on their behalf.
“But now we have permission for two who have been allowed to go back and there
are more to come.”
Jewish surnames can be difficult to pronounce or spell
in some languages. Worse, they can expose their bearers to anti-Semitism which
is one reason why in France – and many other parts of the world – a long list of
Jews, from Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronshtein) to Lenny Bruce (Leonard
Alfred Schneider), have had them changed.
“There was the trauma of the
Holocaust,” said Masson.
“Many wanted to forget and not have their
children go through what they did. But now many people are claiming back their
But in France those who found a new sense of pride in their
Jewish past and wanted to reclaim their heritage hit an obstacle: By law one
cannot go back to a name that either they or one of their ancestors asked to
La Force du Nom petitioned the Justice Ministry last year to have
the law changed expecting an answer no later than October 2010.
French bureaucracy and a long jurisprudence process delayed the decision,” said
Masson. “But now finally we have succeeded.”
She said 10 other people who
want to return to their families’ old surnames are currently on the waiting
list, some of whom decided to do so against the wishes of their
“One of them only found out he was Jewish when his grandmother
died,” she said.
“He looked at the death certificate and saw her name was
different than his. His father was against his changing his name but he said he
wanted to pass down the name to his children.”
Curiously, Masson, whose
father changed his name from Hasan when he moved to France from North Africa and
has dedicated much of her time to fight for the rights of others to change
theirs, is not on the waiting list.
“My father would rather I not change
it,” she said, “and I wouldn’t like to do it without his permission.”