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American history of name changes

Naturalization laws of the United States have provided that an immigrant could formally adopt a new name through his petition for citizenship. In all the states in the United States, with the possible exception of Pennsylvania, a man may change his family name freely without court authorization if he is willing to communicate the name change to all those with whom he conducts personal and business transactions. In most other countries, name changes may be made only with governmental approval.

In the past, many names were changed by immigrants while on the boat heading for America. They simplified the spelling of their names - from Westinghausens to Westinghouse, or from Rivoire to Revere. Many Poles added -ski to their names to attain a higher social status, since such names were accorded more respect from people of Polish extraction.

Since the first World War, family names in the United States have become more stabilized because of the growth of government-sponsored programs. Veterans returning from the war desired to share in pension payments and other privileges from the federal government. With the advent of Social Security laws and regulations in 1935, the requirement for a definite, fixed family name became necessary because a birth certificate must be shown to receive benefits. Various other laws and retirement schemes also promoted the use of fixed, unchangeable names such as motor vehicle registrations, driver license requirements, industrial pension and profit-sharing plans and the great expansion of life insurance.

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