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Isn't it pretty?

Monday, July 11, 2005

What's in a Name?

New York's Funniest Rabbi, Rabbi Neil Fleischmann, posted a series about having the unusual name, Natah. In response to a comment I made on the subject of names, he posted this beautiful poem, which I think really sums up how I feel about my name. So I thought I would expound upon that thought. Even though my family is not "Torah Observant," Judaism was always a major factor in our lives, at the least culturally, if not religiously. My parents made this particularly clear by giving me a very Jewish/Hebrew name, Shoshana Yael, with no English equivalent to go along with it. Growing up in small Jewish communities, usually only one of a very few Jews in my school, the name Shoshana was really unusual and often garnered many "interesting" comments and lots of mispronunciations. I was asked over and over if Shoshana was an Indian name (based, I believe, on the Shoshone Indian tribe). I was often told that when people heard my name, they looked around for a black girl. People often mispronounced and misspelled my name, and often they just didn't care to correct themselves. To this day, I am extremely careful when it comes to spellings of people's name, because I know how much it bothered me when people didn't even try to get my name right. Until I took my first trip to Israel, I thought Shoshana was so weird, and I often contemplated legally changing my name. From the time I was about five, I would tell my parents the names I wanted to change mine to, and their response was always, "When you are old enough, you can if you want to." Then I went to Israel. Lots of people there are named Shoshana, I quickly discovered. I found a shop in the Old City of Jerusalem with my name on it. Families we visited had children with my name. All of a sudden I fit in, which was something I hadn't ever been able to do before, at least not on the basis of my name. All of a sudden, I had people asking me whether I had always gone by my Hebrew name. I didn't know how to answer; I wasn't aware that people had separate Hebrew and English names. I had questions about whether my parents were Israeli; I replied that no, they weren't, they just liked the name Shoshana. After that trip to Israel, I started becoming more observant, taking on more mitzvos and wanting to be part of an Orthodox Jewish community. And with the name Shoshana, it just seemed natural, like I was fulfilling my name. I have been told that parents have a tiny bit of prophecy when they name their children; that the name a child is given will reflect some of the essence of that person. As I have gotten older, and really embraced my Jewish identity, I feel that my name really does reflect who I am. I am proud of having a beautiful Hebrew name, and I am happy that I have such an opportunity to reflect who I am to others. I no longer see my name as being strange and needing to be changed; I see it as part and parcel of who I am.


  • I think your name is beautiful. My husband and I had some difficulty in choosing a name for our daughter because many of the Jewish names I liked sounded like the names of African American children to him. In the end, we chose Rachel, which I like a lot also. But, your name is unique and I'm glad you decided not to change it!

    By Blogger Starfairie, at 8/18/06, 5:11 PM  

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