Saturday, July 29, 2006

Nu? So What's In A Name?

Let’s start from the beginning of my troubles in life.

I was named after two of my ancestors, one who was already long since decomposed ,and the other who was soon to be dead if Nature had any direct say in the matter. In spite of the Ashkenazi superstition that forbids naming offspring after the living (the Sefardim have no problem with it), my father nevertheless felt it appropriate to offer me the name of a breathing, living human being.

The reason given for this custom is based on Jewish mysticism. There exists the notion that the neshama (soul) directly correlates to the name given, and if one is named after a deceased relation or friend, that name travels with the soul into the next incarnation which, in this case happened to be me. Kabala (Jewish mysticism) does speak a good deal about reincarnation, and the entire superstition is somewhat similar to spiritual ideas centered in genetic memory theories. One soul cannot share two live bodies and one of them has to ‘give up the ghost’ to accommodate the other.

I suppose that if the Sefardim were doing it all these years and there seemed to be little ill effect, then it shouldn’t be much of a karmic or psychological issue for a Chasidic kid from Brooklyn. It was still, however, a serious breach of minhag (custom) and some were likely to have questioned my father’s logic at the time, and had they wondered aloud, my father never would have heard it. He was ‘deaf as a post’, or at least that is what he led most people to believe. My father may have ‘lost’ his hearing, but his ‘selective hearing’ seemed to function perfectly.

So not only did my father willfully violate a cardinal rule in the naming of an Ashkenazic child, but he managed to also (why I’ll never know) choose the names of two people that nobody liked! Don’t be surprised by this. Much of my adolescent years were spent staring back at my father’s doings and asking myself (don’t ever ask him directly) “What was he thinking?”

If I wasn’t absolutely convinced that all this kabalistic and superstitious Jewish voodoo was complete nonsense, I would have two very good explanations as to why I turned out the way I did. First, having been named in violation of Jewish custom and second, with insult added to injury, after two people that few human beings, none from our family anyway, could tolerate! By virtue of a short and bloody ceremony (of which I have no conscious memory) I inherited the souls, traits, and personalities of those unpopular men. Wasn’t it bad enough that I already had their DNA?

I come to find out much later that I could have been a “Shaul” instead of a “Shlomo”. So why wasn’t I named “Shaul” after a relative that people adored? My father did share this bit of ‘logic’ with me when I was considering names for my first son, Nissim. Apparently, my father had a good friend living on the next street who also had a son named “Shaul” and, in order to avoid confusion between the boys, he chose to name me something else. Well, let’s put Father’s rationale in its proper context. That “Shaul” was already 6 years old when I was named, had an almost Mediterranean complexion, and black curly hair. (If only I were that handsome!)

So the reasoning behind my given name is so that I wouldn’t be confused with another kid in the neighborhood? I know my father was deaf, but blind, too? How the hell does one confuse one’s own child with another’s six years older and radically different in physical traits? To this day, I have yet to be mistaken for that particular individual, but one never knows what lies ahead. If my father was playing a cruel joke on me with that explanation, I certainly didn’t get it at the time.

See? I wasn’t kidding about why I was screwed from the get-go. You can’t make this stuff up. I also have yet to discover what exactly it was about these men that no one appreciated. Will I have to consult the mirror to find out?

Meshugas, you say? Well, I must agree!

1 comment:

Miriam said...

For what it's worth, I'm semi-convinced that my own troubles are related to my name, too. Apparently my mom wanted to name me Chaya, after her own (dead) mother. My dad wanted "Miriam" for reasons he didn't explain. He was terminally ill at the time, and I believe he just couldn't see naming a kid "Chaya" without tacking on something a bit more morose. So I ended up with the uncommon and unpleasant combination of the two, and indeed, bitterness is something I struggle with greatly.

Anyway, I just added your blog to my RSS reader, and I thought I'd introduce myself.