I recall my dad (Leonard Ghertner) told a story that Simon Ghertner’s name had been changed to include the ‘h’ at Ellis Island because ‘it looked better’. Actually it appears Simon Ghertner never entered the United States through Ellis Island. According to this Smithsonian article, the changing of names at Ellis Island is largely a myth.
Also Simon’s brother, Smil-Lieb, spelled his name the same and he did not come to America as he lived his whole life in Romania.
This story goes back generations before Simon. For centuries, Jews had no last names; last names were private. At that time, for example David’s son Isaac was known as ‘Isaac ben David’.
The introduction of permanent last names into European Jewish life came with the decision of European governments to make their Jewish populations, which had previously been granted a large measure of communal autonomy, fully subject to the same state regulations and bureaucratic record-keeping as were other citizens. In the Austrian Empire, which ruled much of southern and eastern Poland, Jews were ordered to take such names in the 1780s and ’90s; in Germany, in 1797; in tsarist Russia, in 1804.
Ghertner is derived from ‘Gardener’ (or maybe ‘Gaerdener’); or perhaps gardener; we might be descendants of farmers. When the Jews took surnames, some took the names of …
their professions, by which they may already have been known locally: Thus, Itzik der shekhter, Itzik the slaughterer, became Itzik Schechter, and Yosl der shuster, Yosl the shoemaker, became Yosl Schuster. Some arbitrarily took names that appealed to them: Rosenblum, “rose blossom,” for instance, or Goldstein, “gold stone.” And some named themselves for places.
Ghertner probably was originally Gertner and these ancestors might have been from another Eastern European country, such as Poland (I always wondered why I liked kielbasa). There was a 19th century migration of Jews from Poland to Romania, in search of ‘a better life’. In Romanian, Gertner is pronounced as Ghertner (with the ‘h’) so that is the proper spelling; and it is indeed a Jewish name.
On 10 Jan 2012, I spoke with a woman who was born in Roman, Romania and emigrated to America in 1973 and her Polish born father moved to Roman about 1920 as an infant. He knew four Ghertner brothers from Roman. One was a doctor; one a lawyer; one moved to Israel and was a jeweler. The fourth was Aaron and he was an accountant (and a communist); to ‘hide’ his Jewishness, Aaron changed his name to Alexandru Gradinaru.
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