What should a Catholic do about a Jewish name?

My father was raised Jewish (now agnostic), and my mother has been an observant Roman Catholic her entire life (went to all-girls Catholic schools). Religion wasn’t big in my family growing up, we celebrated some Jewish holidays only as a means of getting together as a family but have stopped since my Jewish grandmother’s death. I have gone to Christmas Mass with my mother every year, and we celebrate all major Christian holidays (Easter, Christmas, Good Friday). I am in the RCIA program at my university, as I wish to be an observant Catholic, and plan to marry in the Catholic Church and raise my children as such.

I have a Jewish-sounding last name and often people label me “Jew,” which, as I have started the process of officially becoming a Catholic, makes me upset. I don’t at all identify as Jewish, and Jews wouldn’t consider me one because my mother is Catholic. It annoys me that I am stuck with this name, while Jewish friends who are not religious do not have to deal with identifying names. I look to Caspar Weinberger, an Episcopalian, as someone who had a similar issue. I would never change my name, as that would be disrespectful to my father, but people also thought he was Jewish. I also feel that other Catholics may not view me as one because of my name. What do I do about this? The Catholic community at my school is awesome, but others make quick judgements, and it really bothers me. What am I considered in the eyes of the Church?

Once you enter the Catholic Church, you will be a Catholic of Jewish heritage. Although you are not considered Jewish according to Jewish law since your mother evidently was not Jewish, your father is Jewish and his heritage is yours. (Becoming agnostic does not make a Jew any less Jewish.) After all, Jesus legally became the Son of David because St. Joseph adopted him, and not because of his Mother, whether or not she also was of the house of David. If legal adoption was enough to give God’s Son his Davidic heritage, then certainly birth entitles you to count your father’s heritage as your own.

I cannot say why you might be ambivalent toward your Jewish roots, to such an extent that you wish you did not have your own birth name, but I can say that having Jewish heritage will not make you any less Catholic once you are received into the Church. If you are experiencing anti-Semitism because of your last name, you might want to report that to your university. But perhaps you are merely receiving polite questions, such as “Are you Jewish?” In that case, you need only say, “My father is Jewish, but I am in the process of becoming Catholic.” (After RCIA, just change the last part to “…but I am Catholic.”)

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