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Thursday, May 12, 2005



Mark Mark.

Mark Mark Mark Mark Mark Mark Mark.

My name is Mark. It is the name I was brought up with. It is the name I am most likely to respond to. If you yell "Mark!" from across the street, I will almost certainly turn around (also if you yell "hey you", "stupid", or "eh, Steve!").

I know that Mark is a Christian name. It was also the name of my Mother's ex-boyfriend (and I have a daughter named after an ex-girlfriend). It was also a very popular name for any Jewish boy born during the '60s whose Hebrew name started with an "m" sound. Back in the day when you had to have an English name or you'd get picked on. Because, y'know, Irving is much less Jewish-sounding than Yisroel. So I had two names.

Of course, I had no idea that I had a second, Jewish name, until Moish told me. My earliest exposure to true Judaism came from Moish. As a toddler, Saturdays meant lunch with Moish and his wife, Boba. They lived a block away, and they were my mother's uncle and aunt. They were Orthodox, and we were not. So on Saturday afternoons, we went over to Moishe's house for cholent. We did this for years. We'd go over and eat white fish, then cholent. And then I'd go home and watch TV.

His name wasn't actually Moish. I gave him that name. My mother and aunt like to tell me that I was a bit of a brat. The kind of kid who throws himself to the ground and cries in the middle of a parking lot. Or hides in clothing racks at the department store. Or who wakes up his parents at 3 am demanding "TD time!" I can't imagine what it would be like to live with a psychotoddler like that.

One day Moish, whose name was actually David, told me that my name wasn't really Mark. He told me this in his thick, Galicianishe accent, which I frequently told him was "wrong" because he said "boorich" instead of "baruch." Uncle David took me on his lap, and said, "Your name isn't really Mark. It's Moish!"

I was appalled! Moish?? MOISH?? Why, that's just one letter away from moosh! No one was going to get away with calling me Moish, or Mooshy, or Moishele or any other weird sounding name. "YOU'RE MOISH!!" I yelled back at him.

And it stuck. The whole family called him Moish until he died prematurely of Parkinson's Disease. So I always remember him as Moish.

Years later, when we began having children, we decided to avoid this duality and give them only one name. Their names are their identities. They are Jewish Americans. Strangely, some of their names are showing up now on lists of the most popular secular names. The world turns.

Here is a picture of Moish. He's the one on the right.

1 comment:

PsychoToddler said...

Which daughter has a former girlfriend's name?
tuesdaywishes | 05.12.05 - 4:54 pm | #


Mark/Moshe, we're both in the same "names" boat, but my husband and I didn't have the chutzpah to go all-Hebrew with our son, so he has the "names" thing, too.
Shira Salamone | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 1:09 am | #


You once dated a girl named 'psychotoddler'???

Beautiful post.
David | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 10:29 am | #


I generally find it offensive when people tell me that my English name isn't my "real name". After all, it's the name that most people call me, it's the identity i usually project to the world - just because it's not how i'm identified in ritual settings doesn't mean that it's not an important part of my identity, just as my Hebrew name, and even (lehavdil) my nickname are.

I support the use of multiple names - that way it's easier to name each child after multiple people!
Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 11:24 am | #


I find it interesting when baale tshuva suddenly dump their English names and go by their Hebrew names, not just in Jewish circles, but at work, school. One more reason for people to think they're nuts, I guess.

I wonder what people with the hebrew name Aleksander do?

I'm sticking with Mark. It's who I am. I don't have a problem with people calling me Moshe anymore (I've outgrown my toddler phase--now I'm about pre-adolescent).
psychotoddler | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 11:50 am | #


Wow. I'm just awestruck by the picture.
Mirty | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 12:01 pm | #


I, too, came from an unfrum (non-Orthodox) family, and so I have a secular name that I use for business. But my family and friends (with a few exceptions) all refer to me by my Hebrew name, which I began using socially about twenty years ago. But every now and again, someone will write a check to me under my Hebrew name and the bank will give me problems cashing it. Or some other minor inconvenience will come up as a result of having two different names.

As a result, we gave our children only Hebrew names. Their Hebrew names are on their birth certificates.

The Wolf
BrooklynWolf | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 12:26 pm | #


Here's another perspective:

I sometimes see members of the community in my office. Often these are new families that just moved in, so I don't really know them yet (I'll post about my antisocial behaviour at some point).

Anyway, when they see me, the women in particular go by their English names. But I know that they don't use them in the shul, so when I see them in shul, not knowing their Hebrew names, I don't know how to address them. I usually call them "Mrs. Soandso". Which sounds weird because now many of them are younger than me.
psychotoddler | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 12:44 pm | #


"I usually call them 'Mrs. Soandso'. Which sounds weird because now many of them are younger than me."

And because that's not their last name.

I'd love to read about your antisocial behavior sometime. You sound like an introvert after my own heart. I didn't think rock starts could be introverts.
Doctor Bean | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 1:12 pm | #


Yeah, I can't wait for your antisocial post too. It will be too familiar for me. I liked Moishele. Good reading.
Wickwire | 05.13.05 - 3:11 pm | #


Michele sent me.
kenju | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 3:33 pm | #


I'm here via Michele's meet & greet. I'm not Jewish, but some of my Jewish friends bent over backwards finding English-sounding names that they could somehow fit with the Hebrew name of a late family member they wanted to honor.
Bluegrass Mama | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 3:40 pm | #


Thanks for stopping by my site and referring me to the video of Rafi. I see it's 10 minutes so I will watch it when I have finished my child management duties for the day. I don't know much about jewish life either so found this post very interesting. Very tickled by your reaction at finding out about your name. Mind if I come back some time?
franchini | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 4:27 pm | #


Franchini, I'd be honored.
psychotoddler | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 4:29 pm | #


I didn't know my real Hebrew name until I was 35 and engaged and told my mother either she went to great-grandma's grave to look it up or I wasn't having a Jewish wedding. Bad enough my Bat Mitzvah certificate had the wrong name on it, I wasn't duplicating that trauma on my ketubah! I told her the ketubah wouldn't be valid and all her grandkids would be b-st-rds. It worked. The name turned out to be Aydlah, a Yiddish name, which I love. Someday I'll have to post about how much it meant to me to have this link to my past.

Thanks for a great post.
Anne | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 10:15 pm | #


Every Jewish Mark I know spells it "Marc," not "Mark."

My best friend growing up had an "Uncle Moishe" and I always thought that was a cool name. Reminds me of marshmallows. Yum.
Stacey | Homepage | 05.13.05 - 10:44 pm | #


Mark/Moshe, as long as you mentioned it, I think you've figured out by now that "being a bit of a brat" is hereditary. It's the same in my own family--my husband was a wild kid, and the less said about our son throwing temper tantrums in the shul lobby, the better. (I contributed my fair share of hereditary problems to the mix by passing along my "delayed reading readiness"--neither I nor my son learned to read until third grade.)

I switched to my Hebrew name when I moved to New York, figuring that, here, I could get away with it. I confess that I did it not for Jewish-identity reasons, but for personal-identity ones. Frankly, I was fed up with sharing my first name with half the female half of the known universe, and, since I don't have an English middle name, using my Hebrew name seemed to be a good alternative. When you're one of three girls with the same first name in a *coed* class of only 28 kids, it gets annoying really quickly. Do you have the same problem with Mark?

When we first got married, my husband got annoyed by the fact that I'd just added *his* last name to my *previous* three names (English, Hebrew, maiden), and said to me, "Pick two names." So I got annoyed right back: "It's *my* name and I'll do what I bleeping well please with it!" I still use all four names, in various combinations, depending on the circumstances. But the only place in which I use all four names *together* is in the signature to my home (as opposed to office or blog) e-mail, when I'm e-mailing family or friends, since my family knows me by my English name and my friends know me by my Hebrew one.
Shira Salamone | Homepage | 05.14.05 - 9:59 pm | #


What's in a name?

My given name is Pearl Chaja -- yes, spelling like that. Very Old World, very Eastern European, very foreign to my generation. That's how I ended up with a nickname: Pearlietta Cha-Cha!

With an old-fashioned name, you can stick out like a sore thumb among your school peers. But one day when I was about eighteen, I was hanging out at a girlfriend's with a few other friends. When I looked around the table, I realized we each had these very Jewish, very Old World names:
Pearl; Yetta (her given name was really Yenta) Freda (her given name was Fraydelle). All in all, it was more than okay to "sport" these names...because we'd been named after wonderful family members who'd perished!
Pearl | Homepage | 05.15.05 - 12:03 am | #


I'm enjoying your blog. Take a look at mine if you like.
Pr1ss | Homepage | 05.15.05 - 4:05 am | #


Stacey: Ixnae on the Arshmellowmae.

Pearl: I have studiously attempted to avoid Yiddish names because for the most part I find them unpronounceable or ugly or both. Still, I gave one to my first child, and she's still pissed at me. I think her's happens to be pretty though.

I don't know. I think there needs to be some aesthetic factor weighed in when you choose a name for a child. If you want your child to use that name, that is. Lots of parents name their kids after dead relatives, and then go ahead and give them a secular name that they actually intend to use. What we decided to do was give our kids Jewish names that we intended them to use. So we tried to make sure these were names that we could see ourselves using.

And then of course we gave them nicknames.
psychotoddler | Homepage | 05.15.05 - 12:04 pm | #



Re: heridetary brattiness: I had this same discussion with my older daughter this shabbos. She said something to the effect of: "Oh, so she gets it from you." Yes, to some degree, but in both cases I blame it on the parents. I need to work harder to get the PT to behave like a mentch. I think we've just been lazy with this last one and we just give in to her. That has to stop.
psychotoddler | Homepage | 05.15.05 - 1:30 pm | #


I think having double names is a good utilitarian strategy for those of us with more dead relatives than could be fit into Hebrew names. Say, you have six kids, but you happened to have a large family, and you have 14-15 ancestors that deserve to have someone named after them... there's no better "trick" than to give multiple names... Oh yeah, and middle names, too!
Irina Tsukerman | Homepage | 05.16.05 - 9:57 am | #


Yeah, but most people hold English (or Russian) names don't count. So you can't get away with naming your daughter Shprinza after your great grandmother and Florence after your great great aunt.

But you could call her Freda Shprintza and make sure she never gets a date ever.

FYI my sister's name is Felicia Brenda Tzipora Freidl Breindel and I teased her mercilessly when I found out about the last two (when we were 9 and 6 I believe).

She's named after my grandmother who's names were Felicia Fela Faige. But my mother didn't care for Faige so she changed it to Tzipora.
psychotoddler | Homepage | 05.16.05 - 10:09 am | #


I don't even have a Jewish name... (Sigh) whatever, I thing English names are as good as any, as long as you have Hebrew names *as well*. After all, we live in the United States, etc.
Irina Tsukerman | Homepage | 05.16.05 - 6:07 pm | #