Skip to comments.The game of the names
Posted on 07/09/2003 7:34:43 AM PDT by yonif
I still haven't quite recovered from the recent day when my six-year-old daughter came home from school and blurted out: "Abba, I hate my name!"
It seems some of her classmates had teased her that morning by chanting "Shoshana-banana, Shoshana-banana..."
"Ooof," she said, "why did you have to call me Shoshana? It's a stupid name!"
I tried to explain yet again that I had wanted to name her in memory of my late grandmother, Rose. The modern Hebrew equivalent, Vered, sounded a little hard on our ears, so my wife and I settled for the biblical flora term that can refer to both a rose and a lily.
I'll admit that at the time we perhaps hadn't given enough thought to the whole "Shoshana-banana" connection. In general, little kids everywhere don't like names with more than two syllables; nor, in recent years, do most Israeli parents. Almost every other kid in Shoshana's class fits the local trend for more concise names: Adi, Eden, Ron, Shai, and what could be seen as the current substitute for Shoshana, Shani.
Writing on the subject in this paper recently, columnist Liat Collins quoted Bar-Ilan University Prof. Aharon Demsky as noting, "In Israel today, the trend is to opt for monosyllabic names which are Hebrew, but don't necessarily sound Jewish... The names are simple and non-committal. They are not Jewish in having a literary or religious connotation. "
Shoshana certainly doesn't fit that bill. Perhaps it also seems particularly old-fashioned nowadays because there was both a singer (Shoshana Damari) and a song ("Shoshana, Shoshana, Shoshana...") of that name whose popularity peaked in the early years of the state.
At the time of my daughter's birth, I was more focused on not giving her an Israeli name that would be problematic for the American side of her family - such as Osnat or Moran. At any rate, my judgment in Hebrew names could already be seen as suspect based on the one I chose for myself when I moved here 18 years ago this week.
I'm often asked about the name Calev, which is neither my original English name (Laurence, though I was always called Larry) or the Hebrew one I had before moving here (I was actually circumcised under a Yiddish name, Labish). I chose to call myself after the biblical Calev Ben-Yefuneh, who stands together with Joshua against the other reluctant spies sent by Moses from Sinai to scout out the Promised Land, and then exhorts the Israelites to heed God's word and settle there. It seemed a fitting name at the time for an ardent Zionist determined to make aliya.
I was duly warned at the time that because it is spelled identically to the Hebrew word for "dog," almost nobody in Israel is named Calev. But I went ahead anyway, and fortunately have encountered more bemusement than ridicule from my fellow Israelis.
ANOTHER REASON I chose the name was a fondness for its English equivalent, Caleb, even though the only one I knew of was the character James Dean played in the film version of John Steinbeck's novel East of Eden.
There certainly wasn't any chance of my being named Caleb back in my birth year of 1960, when it presumably seemed as archaic to Americans as, well, Shoshana does to many contemporary Israelis.
But times, and fashions in names, change. An article on the subject in The New York Times this week drew my attention to a Web site operated by the Social Security Administration called Popular Baby Names (www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/), which ranks the 1,000 most common boys' and girls' names in the US since 1900.
It appears that, in contrast to Israel, biblical names are now all the rage in America. Boys' names such as Jacob (1), Joshua(3), and Joseph (6) now far outrank such once reliable favorites as Robert (33), Charles (59), and Richard (77).
"Take Old Testament names," notes the Times. "In 1916, Ruth, for no obvious reason, was the only one to crack the Top 20 for girls. After it crested, it was replaced by Judith in 1940, then Deborah in 1950. By the late 1980s, there were three Old Testament names among the top slots: Rachel, Sarah, and Rebecca. Now it's Hannah, Abigail, and Sarah, with Leah (90 and holding) as the only potential replacement."
But here's my favorite. In 1960 my original name Larry ranked 35, while Caleb not surprisingly didn't even crack the top 1,000. Since then though, the popularity of both names have traveled in opposite directions. In the 1970s, Larry dropped to 57, while Caleb made a big leap to 405. In the 1980s, Larry fell further to 94; Caleb moved up to 143. By the 1990s, Larry in the 200 spot had fallen behind Caleb at 57.
And in 2002? Larry has dropped to a pitiful 307, while Caleb stands at 35 - the exact spot Larry occupied when I was born! Nobody can tell me I wasn't destined to be called Calev.
Of course, if my parents had called me Caleb or Calev back then, I would never have forgiven them. But if a name like Caleb can become all the rage in the States - based on current trends the Social Security Web site even predicts it will become the sixth most common name in America by 2010 - than certainly Shoshana can one day return to fashion in Israel.
So don't worry, my little Shoshana: You may not be so thrilled about it now, but one day you might even thank your abba for giving you such a cool name.
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He said: "Now you just fought one hell of a fight
And I know you hate me, and you got the right
To kill me now, and I wouldn't blame you if you do.
But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye
Cause I'm the son-of-a-bitch that named you "Sue.'"
I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
And I called him my pa, and he called me his son,
And I came away with a different point of view.
And I think about him, now and then,
Every time I try and every time I win,
And if I ever have a son, I think I'm gonna name him
Bill or George! Anything but Sue! I still hate that name!
Or Fawn. It's cute when they are little but when you are thirty and the head of a department it is just a little strange.
It parents are determined then they should give the child a "regular" first name and a cutesie middle name.