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How Arnold Ordman Got His Name
(C) Edward Ordman 1980
My father's parents arrived
from Europe at the very end of 1911, in Boston. My grandfather Maurice
Ordman had been trained as a Rabbi, but spoke no English, so he could not
easily find employment in Boston. It was suggested to him that there might
be enough Jews in Somersworth, New Hampshire, to support a kosher butcher,
so he went there and worked five years as a kosher butcher while learning
English, then moving down to Peabody, Massachusetts, where he was the founding
Rabbi of the small orthodox Shul, "Congregation Sons of Israel".
A month after his
parents arrived in the United States, my father was born, in Somersworth.
His "child of new
arrival" status led to one interesting complication later in life.
After having been a militant pacifist in his college days, in the early
forties he become worked up about what was happening in Europe and was
soon off to the Pacific to fight the Germans. (That is, he enlisted
to fight the Germans and was shipped to the Pacific.)
He was told that since
he had a law degree, the Navy would give him a commission - provided he
could prove he was an American citizen. He wrote off to New Hampshire
for a birth certificate - and was told there was no record of him!
He went to Somersworth, New Hampshire, to investigate the matter, and found
that the town clerk would let him go through the town records for the year
he was born.
He found, tucked in the
town clerk's calendar for the appropriate day - a slip of paper giving
all the needed vital statistics - in Yiddish! No one present when
he was born spoke English. One suspects that they knew they had to
report the birth, but that they hadn't known how.
Arnold came back with the
certified copy of the Yiddish document, and a certification from the town
clerk of Somersworth, New Hampshire, that it had been in the town records
since 1912. He tried to use this to convince the Navy he was an American
citizen. Unfortunately, the Navy tried to do everything by the book
- they sent it off to Washington to try to get an "official" translation
and they did it honestly. They didn't tell the translator what it
supposed to say. Now the translator had no trouble with the figuring
out that on such and such a date, in such and such a place, a baby was
born, but the name was a problem. Yiddish uses the Hebrew alphabet,
and things get transliterated. So what came back from Washington
was a birth certificate for someone named Aaron Ardmen.
My father's name is Arnold
Ordman. The Navy said, fine, Aaron Ardmen is an American citizen,
and Arnold Ordman is otherwise qualified as an officer in the Navy - when
did he change his name? So he had to try to prove that he was Aaron
Ardmen. How? He was born at home. His father had died;
his mother was living in Alexandria, Egypt, which is another story. The
doctor was nowhere to be found; he was probably a French Canadian since
returned to Canada.
After some discussions with the Navy, my father
submitted an affidavit signed by his older brother Harry, saying
that "I was present at the birth of Aaron Ardmen, and I have known him
continuously, and I have known Arnold Ordman continuously, and they are
the same person."
The Navy accepted that -
presumably not noticing that my father's brother had been 16 months old
at the time of Arnold's birth. Oh well, he was probably there - unless
they sent him to the neighbors for the day, or some such.
There is no reasonable doubt that my father's
given name was in fact Aaron - his parents called him Arrele, and that's
what he would have told the first school teacher he met with his name was
- so it was probably his first grade teacher who name him Arnold.
We have one close friend of the family with
a quite similar story, he was called Mo as a child; acquired on his school
records the name Mozart, and only when he was an adult discovered that
his parents had actually named him Moishe.
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