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Living without Your Name

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My friend’s wife was accepted to a PhD program at McGill University in Montreal. They decided to move to Canada with their two children at about the same time that I was offered a fellowship at Princeton and decided to move with my family to New Jersey for a year. Hoping to rent out our apartments while we’re away, we both posted ads on the most popular website in Israel. I received about five calls a day and found a tenant within a couple of weeks. My friend received only three calls in four weeks, and none of the people who called came to look at his flat.

A few days ago he removed his ad from the website and posted a new one, only this time he changed his name from Hussein to Rami. Rami is an ethnically indeterminate name – it can be either Jewish or Palestinian – but there are no Jews called Hussein. Within three days ‘Rami’ received about thirty phone calls, and six people came to look at the flat. He expects to sign a lease with one of them tomorrow. In Israel, if you are a Palestinian and want to rent a flat, at times, to misquote Arthur Miller, you have to live without your name.

Comments on “Living without Your Name”

  1. philip proust says:

    Not even people with Palestinian names want to rent from landlords with Palestinian names?
    Or Palestinian-named renters are too poor to participate in the rental market that academics inhabit?

  2. David Gordon says:

    And the etymology of the surname “Gordon”, at an Israeli address? I am sure the eager potential tenants were not hoping to rent from a Scottish expatriate, probably from Aberdeen.

    The point is that, rather gratifyingly for those of us who have had the name in the family for a dozen or more generations and who like it, it was a favoured choice when Jewish refugees who had found a safe home in Britain wanted to change their family name to something British-sounding.

    • alex says:

      There is a folk legend – probably gestated by Scottish self-images of hospitality – about Jews arriving in that country and on being asked their name, saying ‘Vergessen’ (i.e. ‘forgotten’) whereupon the registrar wrote down ‘Fergusson’.

    • Phil Edwards says:

      Until I thought about it (just now) I was convinced Gordon was a Jewish name as well as a Scottish one. I think the underlying problem was a childhood confusion between David & Jonathan and Peter & Gordon.

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