My name is Natan Gesher, but it used to be Nathan Gessner: I changed it in 2004 when I moved to Israel. I’ve written this page to prevent any potential confusion about who I am.
There are a few other Nathan Gessners and Nate Gessners out there, but I believe that I’m the world’s first and only Natan Gesher.
So, why the change? It’s fairly ordinary for people who move to Israel to take a Hebrew version of their names. Not everybody does it, but plenty of people do and it’s considered admirable in Israeli society. It used to be practically obligatory, in fact. A list of Israel’s early prime ministers reflects this pattern:
- David Grün became David Ben-Gurion.
- Moshe Shertok became Moshe Sharett.
- Levi Shkolnik became Levi Eshkol.
- Shimon Persky became Shimon Peres.
- Golda Meyerson became Golda Meir.
- And so on…
When I was planning to move to Israel and I decided to change my name, I looked around and asked for advice about something that would sound very close to Nathan Gessner and also have some meaning in Hebrew. Natan / נתן (rhymes with the English word baton) is just the Hebrew version of Nathan (for real, it’s in the bible). I chose Gesher / גשר for my new last name because it’s the closest-sounding Hebrew word to Gessner. It also means bridge, which I think sounds pretty nice and has some positive connotations as well.
When moving to Israel, the Interior Ministry makes it pretty easy to do name changes. They just issue the teudat zehut (identity document) in the immigrant’s new name, with a notation for the former name. My former name is also noted in my Israeli teudat oleh (immigration document) and passport.
Everyone I’ve met since 2004 knows me as Natan Gesher. That’s my real name and my entire professional and online identities are as Natan Gesher. It’s been my legal name in Israel since the day I moved there in 2004, even though my legal name in America was Nathan Gessner until 2011.
Now that I live in America again, I went through the process to change my name here. It only took some forms, some money, some time and some patience. As of 6 July 2011, my name in America has been legally changed to Natan Gesher from Nathan Gessner. My various IDs, credit cards and bills have also mostly been changed.
I’m confident that having two names will not be a problem. I introduce myself as Natan, but I don’t mind being called Nathan or Nate if one of those is easier. In fact, sometimes I still do introduce myself as Nate when I feel that a nickname is appropriate.
Incidentally, name changes are also important to America’s immigrant history. My own family’s name was changed from Gerszenowicz to Gessner when my great-grandfather became a United States citizen. My mother’s family name was cut in half and simplified, from Bronfenbrenner to Brenner, so her ancestors could fit in with Americans. Most people’s families have dealt with this and there’s really nothing weird about it.