What’s In A Name?


It was a local number, and I stared at the screen of my phone trying to register who it could be. Friday afternoon, I was pretty sure it couldn’t be my parents. They never call. A sibling? Not likely – I’m persona non grata with the ones locally anyway.


“Hi, is that C?”

My heart started to speed up. A voice I didn’t recognize, a name I hear so infrequently I hardly associate it in my own head.

“That’s me… who’s this?”

And so began the conversation with the Rabbi. A conversation that talked about community, of tying myself to the past in order to have a future. Of going back to being C, someone who I find very difficult to relate to or even think about.

But… something inside me stirred. I found myself talking more quickly. I picked up the pace the Rabbi was setting and fell into a familiar, almost comfortable rhythm and cadence. Heimish, shabbos, shul, kehillo. Words trickled out of my mouth, slowly, regaining confidence in a language and understanding I’ve purposefully made alien to my heart.

In timing as perfect as to be called hashgocha pratis, Shulem Deen recently re-published and article called A Raizel By Any Other Name. In it, he speaks about the path to returning to his birth name, trying out others along the way which didn’t quite fit. It made me think a lot about the English name I’m using now, how it has no connection to the name my parents gave me. The name that ties me to a little girl, a hundred years and thousands of miles ago, whose name I was once very proud to carry.

It’s not that my neshoma is crying out for my real name to be heard or used. It’s not like the little girl who shared a name with me cares that I’m no longer using it. It has nothing to do with religion. I think. Instead, like Shulem said, I’ll always have a little bit of who made me inside of me. For better – and mainly for worse – C is who defined me for 30 years. She carried the crushing pressure of the velt, the strict and oppressive interpretations of roles and responsibilities. It’s C who buckled under the pressure, picked up the ugliness of the fallout and attempted to carry on.

Try as I may to forge a new path, C always walks beside me. I’m pulled in two different directions and navigating the prickly, uneven path is exhausting. By the same token, I can’t abandon my English name either. It’s the one who has allowed me to fit in, to move ahead, to act as though there wasn’t a painful jar attached to my chest where my heart used to be.

It all returns to the Rabbi. The one who inadvertently extricated C from a dark hiding place, bringing her out into the fresh air for a glimpse of familiarity and comfort. I need to be the name I was born to have, whether I like it or not. Whether it’s hard for people to pronounce and even harder to comprehend the life attached to C.

And this shabbos, I’ll be back in C’s world. Not to lament the past, but start to try to work on making that prickly, uneven path a bit more navigable. Where I can be both C and the woman who picked up the ball and ran with it when C couldn’t anymore. I want to make the name my own, instead of a millstone burdened with the weight of what was negative in my life.

I want to be me again.


4 responses to “What’s In A Name?

  1. A name is an important part of a person. I don’t think you can ever truly escape from your own name. We all have to learn to embrace our name, it is who we truly are. It is part of our essence.

    • I think it’s taken me a while, but I now understand that escape isn’t necessarily an option. C is definitely who made me who I am today.

  2. Very beautiful words. It is always without a doubt who we were that got us to who we are.
    And in some way that Rabbi was right – “tying yourself to your past in order to have a future” – not tying, ח”ו, but using and building on your past, to be proud of who you were and how you changed and built your future through her.

    • Thank you!

      You’re right – not tied in the sense that I want to be tied down or tied back, but connected to the person I was before so that I can make a better future from learning. If that makes sense…

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