Monday, September 9, 2013

Name Nonsense

After reading The Woman Who Lost Her Names, by Nessa Rapaport I have to say, I'm a little pissed off. A person's name should never define him or her, at least not in my book.

In this short story, a girl named Sarah Josephine Levi marries an Israeli man and in doing so, she is forced to change her name. Obviously through marriage her last name will change, but what I found odd was that her husband Yakov required her to change her first name as well because it was the same as his mother's. "Really?" I thought. "I mean, who cares?" In Yakov's culture, however, this is a rule. I thought that Yakov would be excited that his wife's name is the same as his mother's because often in Jewish families (I know this because I am Jewish and because it is established as a tradition in the story) people are named after deceased relatives. In fact, Sarah was named after her grandmother and her Father's brother (his name was Joseph, so her middle name became Josephine).

Back when Sarah was a child, her mother stressed the importance of names to her. She said, "Remember who you are and you'll have yourself. No matter what else you lose" (Rapaport 230). Nevertheless, Sarah's name changes from Sarah, to Josephine, to Josie, to Jozzi, to Joseph, to Yosef, and finally to Yosefah. (Yeah, pretty confusing and unnecessary.) Another name issue arises when Sarah and Yakov must name their first daughter. Sarah wants to name her Ayelet Hashachar, but Yakov wants to name her after Sarah's mother--which he says is the Jewish way. At the end of the story, no name is chosen, and this is what aggravated me the most: there is no resolution. The conflict is never resolved. Sarah loses her name and then the reader never learns what her daughter's name is.

I completely disagree with Sarah's mother. It is your actions that define you, not your name. Your name is not even your own choice! I was named Samantha because my parents liked that name. My parents picked Alexis for my middle name because they thought it would be cool if my initials spelled out SAM. My only choice was whether I wanted people to call me Samantha, Sammy, or Sam.

I guess I could have (in a way) picked my own name. I met a girl in high school whose name was Juliet, but she insisted that everyone call her Hunter. It was kind of weird at first, but eventually she was just Hunter, not Juliet. When substitutes would read off the attendance sheet and call for Juliet I would think "who's Juliet? There's no Juliet in our class."

Anyway in my post-reading aggravation, I went on FaceBook and noticed a trend having to do with names. Many high school seniors (at least in my school and others in the Northeast) changed their names on FaceBook to funny puns or song lyrics. I asked my friend Gillian why and she said:

"I think everyone has the idea that by changing their name before applying to colleges, admissions won't be able to find their page on FaceBook (which isn't true). Also, it's kinda fun trying to come up with different puns that work with your name." 

My friend Gillian (on the left) and her friends Sydney and Kirstin all changed their FaceBook names.

I thought this was very interesting. If seniors at my high school felt the same way about their names as Sarah does in the story, they would never have changed them--especially into silly puns. Today it seems as though names are the least important factor when identifying oneself. A person's beliefs and his or her actions are more important when establishing who a he is in a community. A name is just something to address someone by. 

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