Leah Fury: What’s In a Name? History, Violence and Agency

A powerful commentary piece in Vermont Digger April 2, 2018 (read full article):

While doing research on my family genealogy, I learned that my late grandfather, a child of German Jews, was born with the middle name Adolph. I knew that his family had changed their last name from Slawitsky as his father, my great-grandfather, faced insurmountable anti-Semitism while serving in the U.S. military against the German Nazis due to his surname. What I didn’t know was that when making the anglicized legal switch from Slawitsky to Lawton, the family had also changed my grandfather’s middle name from Adolph to Tilden, defiantly distancing him from a dangerous oppressor while assimilating to avoid discrimination. While I do grieve the loss that my family suffered through the assimilation of our last name, I also celebrate the agency that allowed my grandfather to feel liberation from one of the most despicable practitioners of violence and hate. The name Tilden was passed on to his own son, and just a month ago my cousin gave the name to her newborn son, his great-grandson who he did not live to meet.

Here in Vermont we have an unfortunate history of refusing individuals their agency that has played out from the first time that European settlers arrived, simultaneously and paradoxically denying both the presence and the humanity of the Western Abenaki. Since that relatively recent arrival, the Abenaki have survived genocide taking the forms of land theft, property destruction, mass murder, scalping and more – insult after injury after insult after injury. The forced sterilization of Abenaki en mass in the 1930s and early ‘40s via the Vermont Eugenics Survey is only one of the more recent manifestations of this genocide… (see link above for balance)

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6 thoughts on “Leah Fury: What’s In a Name? History, Violence and Agency”

  1. The ancient name Adolf / Adolph is a beautiful & nobel name which predates Hitler. My grandfather – a Frankfurt am Main born & raised pacifist drafted into WWI who participated in the Christmas Truce & threw away the medal he won for being wounded – proudly kept his name. Despite my grandmother’s sister (his sister in law) having been murdered by the Nazis for having a disability & other horrors visited upon our family (who had nobody serving in WWII as my mum was an only child).

    Many of those horrors included the bombing & strafing & mass raping of civilians by the vaunted Allies btw. To be perfectly honest. Actions which many British have admitted would be considered war crimes today; but which Americans & French & Russians refuse to concede to as having been war crimes.

    I am also from New England (near NYC) – born & raised – and see ZERO reason for anybody to feel ashamed of or “distance” themselves from the name Adolf or its many variants. There have been many great people born w/ this name; including many Jewish people – some of them quite famous.

    They did not change their names as there was ZERO reason or gain for them to change their names. Hitler was ONE person. Nobody changes their name from Joseph because of Stalin. For only one example.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. *I am also a person of colour btw (I am only German on my WWII Red Cross refugee Displaced Person mother’s side); lest anyone think that I have defended the lovely name of Adolf out of some neo-Nazi alt-right (alt-*white*) etc. sympathies / craziness. I simply think that all the Jewish & other people w/ the name Adolf (& Latin males w/ the name Adolfo etc.) should be given respect. Perhaps more so for suffering afterward under the weight of this name! And in fact (in a nod to your site/blog) I have connections to Indigenous Americans since childhood – some who were involved in significant activism – but that was not the point of my posting here.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I just left a reply here & it vanished into the ether. I loathe when that happens. Perhaps WordPress sent it to the spam file for some reason; so you may find it there. Lol – what a shame – as it was genius (joking).

    I said thanks for your hospitality & for not taking what I wrote the wrong way – which someone else could have easily done.

    And how I understand individuals changing their name – but don’t like the assumptions people make that someone w/ the name Adolf had Nazi parents. And how I had to remind a friend from Germany – born in the 60s like me – that as my grandfather was born in the 1890s his parents/my great grandparents could not have been pro-Hitler! (Unless they were time travellers).

    And then I wrote something about the ‘swastika’ & a non-Indigenous American saying they thought Native people here should stop using it & my response to that. (My explanation of why they should NOT be expected to stop using it).

    Also I wrote that I like your blog & have been reading your posts as they’ve come into my inbox; but couldn’t comment because I’ve had a horrible headache – but probably will later. (Especially the post about toxic industry near reservations etc.).

    I hope this comment doesn’t disappear as well now…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your comment survived posting this time! I know that sinking feeling, when one’s carefully constructed thoughts vanish into the black hole of web-glitchiness. Thank you for circling back again. Your replies are a welcome affirmation that there can be thoughtful exchange without judgement and reactionary assumption, which is one of the invitations I extend with this blog. Looking forward to further encounters! Take care…

      Liked by 1 person

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