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Sean Penn's mother, Eileen Ryan Penn (née Eileen Annucci, of Italian and Irish ancestry), said this about the origin of her father-in-law Maurice's surname:
They asked for (Maurice's) name at Ellis Island, he said 'Piñon,' with his accent, and they said 'What? OK, Penn.'"
First of all, it's a myth that immigrants' names were changed at Ellis Island. Second, Maurice never set foot on Ellis Island, unless as a tourist.

Maurice Daniel Penn was born Moische Pinon, 12 Oct. 1897 in Meretz, Russia (now Merkinė, Lithuania), and died 4 Mar. 1981 in Orange County, California. He arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, aboard the S.S. Franconia on 29 July 1914. He did change his name to "Penn" by 12 Sept. 1918, when he registered for the draft.

Sean Penn does have plenty of Ellis Island ancestors, though. Maurice's mother, Bebka Pinon, passed through in 1921, as did his wife Elizabeth Marion (née Lea) Melincoff, who came as a child with her mother and two siblings on 5 Apr. 1897, aboard the S.S. Pennsylvania. Elizabeth's father, "Mosche Malinkoff," came through in August 1892.

Corrections and additions are welcome in the comments.

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Comment by Chris Dunham on July 13, 2009 at 8:44pm
She also said that the name Pinon "means 'nut" in Spanish, so there had to be some Spanish in the family, way, way back." A better explanation is that she is a nut, and doesn't understand that words and names in different languages can be coincidentally similar but etymologically distinct. "Lugar" is Spanish for "place," but that doesn't make Richard Lugar Indiana's first Hispanic senator.




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