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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Should Jon Stewart change his name back to Jon Leibowitz?

Ron Rosenbaum in Slate suggests, in an open letter to the Daily Show host, that Jon Stewart revert back to using his real name, Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz:

So please know I’m writing as an admirer, someone who thinks you have the courage as well as comedic smarts to take the simple but radical step I’m going to suggest.

I want you to change your name. Back to Leibowitz. Stewart is just so 20th-century, a relic of that dark age when Jews in show biz changed their names because they feared “real Americans” wouldn’t accept the originals.

It’s not as if you’re trying to hide your Jewishness in your TV persona…. It’s almost as if the Leibowitz in you is trying desperately to escape from behind the mask of the Stewart. So why not set it free? Change the name back?

Rosenbaum mentions that recent poll that named Stewart America’s most trusted newsman, which may have prompted this request, but since he brings in Michael Jackson and his strange relationship with race and identity, it’s clear Rosenbaum’s been thinking about this for at least a little while. (And I bet the fact of America’s first black President and the relative nonissueness — crazy nutty “birther” nutters aside — with which we elected a man named Barack Hussein Obama to the White House, whatever his skin color, had something to do with it, too.)

I may have a skewed perspective on this, as a New Yorker: all New Yorkers are basically culturally Jewish, anyway, so it seems like no big deal to me whether a kid from Joisey is called Stewart or Leibowitz. But maybe there are still lots of folks in the United States in the 21st century who would look askance at “Jon Leibowitz” but not “Jon Stewart.” It does seem unlikely that any of them are watching The Daily Show, on which Stewart does, as Rosenbaum points out, make a regular schtick of his Jewishness.

On the other hand, maybe that means it isn’t worth talking about anyway. If everyone already knows that Jon Stewart is Jewish, does it matter what we call him? Or what he calls himself?

Should Jon Stewart change his name back to Jon Leibowitz?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • Accounting Ninja

    I’m speaking from a place of relative privelege here, because I’m not Jewish so I don’t know what day-to-day obstacles they face. So it would be easy for me to say, hellz yeah, change it back!
    But, just maybe, it isn’t a matter of the name sounding Jewish. Maybe it’s just that “Stewart” is catchier and easier to pronounce than “Leibowitz”. After all, Stewart is just a variation on his middle name, so it IS still him own name.
    I can relate; I hyphenated my name when I got married. But my maiden name is “Theriault”, and no one can ever pronounce or remember it. So I almost exclusively use my short, easy married name. Huh, some feminist I am, huh? But it’s not that I want to take my husband’s name or that I am eschewing my heritage or making a statement. It’s only that, FINALLY, people don’t trip all over my last name and mispronounce it.

  • JSW

    But what about his duties to Oa? The Guardians of the Universe aren’t going to like it if he changes his name back to Leibowitz, and may even revoke his power ring and lantern battery. What would we citizens of Space Sector 2814 do then?

  • That is not going to go over well with the announcer for the Daily Show.

  • victor the crab

    Has it occurred to anyone that the reason for the name change may have more to do with a strained relationship with his estranged father, who moved out on his family when he was ten years old? And besides, he’s already legally changed his name to Stewart, so there’s no going back.

  • Caoilfhiann

    He only changed his name because he thought Leibowitz was “too Hollywood.”

  • tulsplat

    lol @JSW…and during comiccon too

  • I don’t get why anybody cares what anybody else wants their name to be… it’s something we’re saddled with at birth, yeah, but unlike all the other stuff we’re stuck with (race, parents, siblings, genes, etc…) a name is something you can change. If you don’t like it, change it. Too jewy? Change it. Too many syllables? Change it. And so on.

    Who gives a fuck what Jon Stewart’s “real” name is, anyway? There isn’t anything wrong with treating people how they ask to be treated, and this person wants to be called Stewart. For whatever reason. There’s nothing sacrosanct about the names our parents give us; anybody who says differently is selling something… probably pre-monogramed dinner napkins.

    PS: ditto the LOL @JSW

  • Chuck

    Matters not. Don’t know what his reason for changing was. But showbiz people often change their names for more impact ie Marrion Morrison (unsure of spelling) = John Wayne, easy for any moron to remember. Stewart is more pedestrian. Let’s not even get into John Cougar.

    I think Mr. Rosenbaum needs to relax, cause very few people give a a crap if your name ends in stein, or berg.

  • As a Unitarian born to a paternal bloodline that’s German Catholic, last names mean a lot, especially when they’re constantly misspeeled.

    Try spelling ‘Wartenberg’ a few times. I always get problems with companies and gov’t offices typing in -burg like I’m a city, or -burgh that makes me Scottish. And having -berg at the end making a few peoples think I am of Hebrew faith (I had the Jewish fraternity at UF blitz me for membership my first week at college).

    Personally, I think we should all be named ‘Smith’. No more spelling problems. No more leafing through the A’s to R’s and T’s to Z’s of the phone book. No more homerooms or gym classes divided by last name. We are all Smith, just give us a first name, middle name, and third name for variety, you know like the British Royals…

  • @Paul W: “Personally, I think we should all be named ‘Smith’.”

    but you know some non-conformist is going to change it to Smyth, or Smithe, or Smitte!

    why don’t we all go the icelandic system: so i’d be matronomically “bonnie annasdaughter” or patrinomically “jamesdaughter” so then, you’d have that problem too, does it have to be the father’s name one uses, or would it be the mother’s name? perhaps we all *should* have numbers! (i am not a name, i am a free number!)

  • LaSargenta

    i am not a name, i am a free number!

    Not a radical number?


  • misterb

    What’s in it for John? He’s built a strong brand equity in the Stewart name; why would he want to give that up?

  • stephanie b

    I think Jon Stewart should do whatever he wants with his name. He is under no obligation to answer to fans who want him to be “more Jewish.” What’s next? Requests that he grow a beard and wear a yarmulke on the air? Stewart obviously identifies as culturally Jewish, he talks about being Jewish, so what does it matter if his name is Jon Stewart or Yochanan Leibowitz? Stewart should be able to express his cultural identity however he chooses. Besides, names aren’t always an indicator of ethnicity. I have one friend named Eanen Cohn who isn’t Jewish at all and another named Genevieve Ellis who is a practicing Jew.

    As for everybody being named Smith – no. As a host of science fiction will tell you, homogenization is never a good solution.

  • I may have a skewed perspective on this, as a New Yorker: all New Yorkers are basically culturally Jewish, anyway…

    Even Spike Lee and Rosie Perez?

    But maybe there are still lots of folks in the United States in the 21st century who would look askance at “Jon Leibowitz” but not “Jon Stewart.

    Maybe? Perhaps I’ve been unluckier in the types of people I’ve met but I’m starting to feel like Gwen Cooper now.

    Especially since it was just a few years ago when I had to ask a former female acquaintance to stop using the term “jew down.” (Apparently the term had been used so often in her circle of acquaintances that it wasn’t until she met me that she even thought about questioning its use.)

    Personally, I think we should all be named ‘Smith’.

    Or Lopez. ;-)

  • Accounting Ninja

    I love bronxbee’s idea. From now on, call me Jenn Claudettesdottir. Of course, that would make my brother Roger Rogersson. Sucks to be him!

  • Bluejay


    What do you mean by “all” New Yorkers being “culturally Jewish”? I don’t think I am, but maybe I’m wrong.

  • MaryAnn

    Every call someone a schnook? Or eat a bagel?

    Even Spike Lee and Rosie Perez?

    In not too many years, all New Yorkers will be culturally Hispanic.

    And yes, I know that’s a generalization so wide that it almost has no meaning. But so does “culturally Jewish.”


  • Bluejay

    Schnook, no. Bagel, yes.

    Going by the food definition, given all the restaurants I’ve eaten in in this town, I’d say I’m culturally Earthling.

    Even more accurate: culturally New York. :-)

  • in this town, even hispanics, asians and wasps say “i schlepped all the way across town to order my bagels with a schmear, and the guy behind the counter was such a schmuck!” my favorite deli is a korean deli, with hispanic counter guys, frequented by irish construction workers. now *that’s* new york.

    as for stewart’s name and cultural designation, i believe it was Hillel who said, “Who is a Jew? He who says he is a Jew.” although that may have been in another context of course.

  • Lisa

    Jon Stewart is Jewish?!?!?!?! oy vey

  • LaSargenta

    I used to say almost the exact same thing. I lived in the UK for a while (1983-1986) and there was a stark awareness of “jewishness” and I encountered a lot of anti-semitism (as well as a great deal of other isms). I am from a religiously mixed family, but my mother was born jewish (although converted away when I was a child and I was raised atheist in a culturally lutheran context) and after I told one person that, it got around in a big way. So, I was at a party and got introduced to another guest by the hostess with “You two will get along famously! You’re both jewish!” which left this guy and I staring at each other in what was on my side, at least, SHOCK. His first words in a public-school/west end London accent: “So, what’s it like to be jewish where you’re from?” My response in an instantaneously laid-on New York accent (I had been there a while and absorbed the local accent): “In New York City, if you’re white, you’re culturally jewish.”

    Glib response tho’ it was, I no longer make it. New York City is a special place. We are an amazing mix and I could really make a case (with language and food, and music, to start) that we are culturally irish, jewish, yoruba, and chinese at least and probably quite a few others all equally.

    There have been plenty of times I’ve said something along the lines of “You’re making me meshunnegah with all these shennagins!”

    There ya go! Yiddish and gaelic. That’s two.

  • Fuggle

    Not a radical number?

    We’d all be irrational numbers, really. ‘Cause we’re all i.

  • Brett Sanders

    Re: Jon Stewart (born Leibowitz)

    Jews are given a Hebrew name including a Patronymic. My Hebrew name is Chaim ben Yehuda. Yehuda is my father’s Jewish name. This is my real authentic Jewish name, and it’s the one they called me by at my bar-mitzvah. Note that this name does not contain a family name, only the name of my father. The idea of having a “Last Name” is not a Jewish idea. If anything, for a Jew to have a last name at all is a tacit acknowledgment of assimilation into the Christian world. Jews in Europe in the middle ages were given last names so that Christian European rulers could better keep track of them. So the fact that some Austro-Hungarian or German or Russian or Polish ruler assigned my ancestors a German or Russian or Polish name means that that name became my lineage’s true Jewish name for all time forward? Does this mean my ancestors became less Jewish because they took on the cultural requirements for naming at the time?

    How far back should we go? The last Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD when Jews lived in Palestina, a Roman province. Does this mean to be authentically Jewish we need to wear togas and change our names back to some Latin rendering of our Hebrew names? In all the expulsions and wanderings of my ancestors over the last 2000 years, which era’s language, culture, dress, and name should I favor?

    My grandfather changed his name from Sandersowitz to Sanders not only because he wanted to escape the antisemitism he faced in the early twentieth century as a fur salesman in New York, but also, because Sanders was a lot easier to spell, given the English-speaking American cultural environment. Being able to say your name once and have people understand it the first time is an important assest for any businessman, or for any kid growing up, for that matter. I believe my grandfather chose well. I hold him up to my son as an example of adaptation in the face of adversity.

    –Brett Sanders

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