When a lot of men came West one of the first things they did was change their 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 therefore didn’t question it. If a man 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.
Hmmm…I’m wondering how many men had multiple wives under different names? And what about their kids? Lordy, what a mess!
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 helped him hide in plain sight. 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 my story in the Give Me an Outlaw anthology, my hero’s birth name was Marion Applebaum. He decides that 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.
Same thing in THE WIDOW’S HEART (the Hearts and Spurs anthology.) My hero changed his name to Cade Coltrain because he was a wanted man on the run.
*side note* John Wayne was sooooo much better than Marion Morrison.
A new name meant freedom and a fresh start. The slate was wiped clean.
A man could be whoever he wanted to be, especially in the vastness of the old West.
I can certainly understand this. My last name of Broday (pronounced as Bro-dee) is a made-up name. When my husband’s paternal 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 the harsh realities of war. He also shortened his first name from Albert to Bert. And the name change worked. They blended in and had a peaceful existence in America.
My husband’s maternal great grandfather also changed his name. 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 assimilate into American culture better.
Names were much easier to change back then. Today it would be near impossible with Social Security numbers, the Internet, and law enforcement capabilities.
These are just two true instances that I know happen to have taken place within 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? If not, tell me what you think of name changes.