My last name isn’t really Alexander

My last name isn’t really “Alexander.”

But it’s not a witness-protection thing or an adoption thing, it’s an Ellis Island thing.

As the legend was told to me late in my teenage years, my great-grandparents on my dad’s side of the family immigrated into the United States through Ellis Island. As they were going through the immigration process, a worker at Ellis Island asked what their last name was.

Apparently they replied with a name that did not translate well to the English language. Whether they attempted to spell the name or just spoke it, I’ll never know, but the legend is that the name sounded like it began with something that sounded like “Al,” so the employee at Ellis Island told them, “Your last name is now ‘Alexander.’ Welcome to the United States.”

It seems weird to have a last name that a government worker randomly gave to my great-grandparents, but in the end, it’s just a label.

(Thanks to family conspiracy theories and suspected affairs, it’s also likely that I was named “Alvin” after a guy who isn’t really my biological grandfather. One of my uncles was Mousey Alexander, a famous jazz drummer. He was about five and a half feet tall, and balding, like the guy I was named for. My dad was 6'3" tall and not bald. I am also not bald.)

I thought of this recently because one of my neighbors came to the U.S. about 20 years ago from the Middle East, and her last name also sounds like it begins with “Al.” My dad’s side of the family is Assyrian, so they probably also came to the U.S. from somewhere in the Middle East, albeit about 115 years ago. When I saw this woman do some things exactly like one of my nieces, I laughed a little and thought to myself that we might be distantly related.