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Rhapsody in. . . who?


In today’s post, Frances traces some of the various transformations (or potential misprints) of the Gershwin family name.

George and Ira’s father arrived in New York in 1890 still accompanied by his Russian Jewish name: Moishe Gershovitz. Moishe soon changed his name to the much more Americanized Morris Greshevin, as was frequently the custom with immigrants’ names upon arriving in America. Morris’s wife, Roza Bruskin, similarly became known as simply Rose. By the time of their union in 1895, their marriage license read “Gershvin.”

Morris and Rose Gershwin

Morris and Rose Gershwin circa 1895. Held by Library of Congress

In the 1900 US census, two years after George’s birth, Morris was back to using the last name Greshevin. Ten years later, the 1910 US census listed Morris under Gershvein, and it was only after the teenage George started using “Gershwin” around the early 1910s that the family name settled down, so to speak. Ira was originally Israel, and even George himself was given the birth name Jacob (Yakov). Beyond these familial changes, countless articles and biographies have used even more variant spellings, such as Gershowitz and Gershwine. Who knows, our favorite “Rhapsody in Blue” could have been written by the beloved American composer Yakov Greshvin!


Further Reading:

Names collected from the 1900, 1910, and 1920 US Census.

Hyland, William. George Gershwin: A New Biography. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

Pollack, Howard. George Gershwin. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

IMG_9930 [22810430].jpgFrances Sobolak is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan pursuing a Linguistics major and Music minor. She joined the Gershwin Initiative team in the fall of her sophomore year through the university’s undergraduate research opportunity program.

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