A Rose by Any Other Name by
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(96 Stories)

Prompted By Nicknames

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My namesake, Lauren Bacall

In the Jewish tradition, babies are named to honor someone in the family who had died. Thus, I was named Lauren Sue in memory of my maternal great grandmother Liba Sheva. Actually, my parents named me Lauren because they loved Lauren Bacall. Then they called me Laurie. Sue was probably one of the most common middle names from my era. Because I was named for her mother, my maternal grandmother called me “Mamaleh,” which is a Yiddish term of endearment meaning “little mama.”

Do I dare to gift myself with my true name of Lauren? Probably too late, and after all, no one calls me “Big Laurie” anymore. Mostly, I go by Gramma.

My brothers only fared a bit better in the nickname department. Richard immediately became Ricky and then Rick. Paul went by Paulie and Cookie as a child, but was able to reclaim his actual name at some point. Most of my friends growing up went by nicknames – All of the Susans were Susie, the Patricias were Patty and the Elizabeths were Betty. My husband, given the name Fredric spelled like Fredric March, was Freddie or Schmoo as a child, and eventually just plain Fred.

I grew to love my given name of Lauren once I realized it was no longer a boy’s name (Loren), but had been called Laurie for so long that I didn’t see a way to reclaim it, even after suffering the indignity of being called “Big Laurie” by my husband’s side of the family when his sister named her daughter Lori. So, I tried to give my children names that were nickname-proof. We naively named our first-born Jonathan. Of course, he shortened it to Jon by middle school, giving Harvard the opportunity to place him in a room with two other students named John, which must have amused someone there. The three Johns, as they were known, roomed together for all four years of college.

But I digress. Jonathan also needed a Hebrew name (Yiddish ones were now passé) in memory of an ancestor who had died. We chose Yisroel for our son, who was named for my husband’s Uncle Irwin, who had abandoned Yisroel for the more American-sounding Irwin. At the time, we couldn’t think of a name that started with an “I” (I could think of plenty today), so we named him Jonathan Ian. Even though technically Ian is a Scottish version of John, we just liked how it sounded and Jonathan was a popular name back then.

Sadly, our next child’s name was easy. My father-in-law died eleven months before our daughter was born. His Hebrew name was Avraham and his English name was Albert, so Alissa (with the Hebrew name Aviayla) was a perfect choice. No way to make a nickname there. By the time our third child was born, there was no logical ancestor to honor. We had decided to name our baby for my maternal grandfather Philip. When we couldn’t come up with a “P” name we liked for a girl, we just called her Dana, a name we loved that had no nickname possibilities, Somehow, she was given the Hebrew name Batya, which related to my grandfather’s Yiddish name in an obscure way that I don’t remember.

Ironically, our youngest daughter with the nickname-proof name became the queen of bestowing nicknames on others. Each of us had one. My husband was Deeke, and I was unfortunately called Ming (as in Ming the Merciless, I assume). Jon became Loafer and Alissa was called Scoob. Even her cat, originally named Katerina, came to be known as Tree Bert (because she climbed trees?) and then Bertie. She continued the tradition with her own pets. Savanah was called Van-Van, Aspen went by Baby Brown, and Flynn Rider (he really needed a nickname, but that’s what you get when you let your kids name the dog at the height of Tangled fame) became Flinner Lou Bob. One of her newest dogs, Charlotte Gracie, is usually called Guaca.

Ming the Merciless – unfortunately not the pretty woman

I have grandkids with perfectly lovely names who went by Love Bug, TT, Nugget, Jin-Du, Little La, Monkey, Bubba, and Calabee when they were young. I guess I should be grateful mine wasn’t such a bad nickname, with the exception of the “big” or “ming” monikers.

When my grandparents immigrated to America, they often lost their names, adopting an Americanized nickname to go with their new identities. My paternal grandmother’s name before she came to America in 1913 was Chaya Gittel Beerzh. After she came to Boston from Lithuania at age fifteen, she became Ida Rosenberg. So many of those Yiddish names were changed. Moshe became Morris. Yisroel became Irwin. Schlomo became Solomon. Malke became Molly. Sarah became Shirley or Sally.

If you are bored in your “#stayathome” state, there is a new game on Facebook. Google your first name plus the words “glamour shot.” For Laurie I get Laurie Metcalf, a 64-year-old great actress.

Laurie Metcalf

But for Lauren, I get Lauren de Graaf, a supermodel. I rest my case.

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet utters the famous line, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” My dear friend, known to me as Dee Dee, decided when she was in her twenties to ask everyone to call her by her given name of Diane. I don’t know why I never reclaimed mine. Do I dare to gift myself for my seventy-fifth birthday this September with my true name of Lauren? Probably too late, and after all, no one calls me “Big Laurie” or Ming anymore. Mostly, I go by Gramma.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Wow, plentiful nicknames in your family, Laurie. And of course, we’ve come up with essentially the same title (different parts of the same quote). As someone who trained to be an actor, I aspired for much of my early life to play Juliet; R&J being my favorite play in the English language.

    I did think it was slightly amusing that you were sort of named for Lauren Bacall, because her real name was Betty Persky! But that’s a different story. We are busy watching old movies in our household and have seen a lot of the young Bacall. She was really something and I can see why, after naming you for the Jewish ancestors, your parents went for Bacall.

    Thanks for sharing such a comprehensive list of family nicknames.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Betsy, my claim to those lines came from teaching Romeo and Juliet to many high school students. So, like you, it was the first thing that popped into my mind. I’m guessing my parents loved Lauren Bacall because she was Jewish, but her given name was more in keeping with names from that generation. The only real Lauren I knew growing up was a boy in my third grade class, Loren K. At that point, I was happy they called me Laurie.

  2. Marian says:

    It’s so fun to learn the details about your nicknaming daughter, Laurie, and all the names she has bestowed on people and pets. All of us who are Jewish have a story of a name being changed, and it’s fascinating to find out about. I didn’t know that Malke became Molly. My Hebrew name is Malcha (Queen), but I just can’t see myself as a Molly at this stage. My grandfather was Morris, and his Hebrew name was Moshe (Moses), so that fits great.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Yes, Marian, there was such a desire to have an American name as an immigrant that many abandoned beautiful names like Sarah to become Sally. My nicknaming daughter said it was embarrassing when I asked her to help me remember some of them, but she’s still at it, especially with her pets. She claims she doesn’t remember the origin of my name, Ming, but I know better.

  3. Suzy says:

    Lovely story, Laurie, and if you want to reclaim Lauren, you can start by using it here and see how it feels. Funny though that you were named after Lauren Bacall, since her name was really Betty, and that’s what everyone called her even after she was famous.

    My daughter Sabrina has the Hebrew name Batya just like your Dana does. It was because we were ostensibly naming her for my grandmother, who was Bertha in this country but Batya in the old country (it would have made more sense if we had called her Bree, as I explain in my story I wanted to do). And my daughter Molly’s Hebrew name is Malka, as you mention. I toyed with the idea of making her English name Malka, but my mother was horrified, saying that’s a shtetl name!

    I tried that glamour shot game you were talking about, but I must have been doing it wrong, because I got lots of pictures of people I didn’t know, nobody famous. Maybe you can explain it to me privately.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Suzy, it’s so interesting how the immigrant generation wanted nothing to do with their shtetl names because they so badly wanted to fit in to America. Some of those names were quite beautiful and may make a come back someday. I get a kick out of using Lauren with people who don’t know me, especially doctors. I toyed with using it for my book, but that’s not how anyone knows me. So Laurie it is, I’m afraid.

  4. Wow, Laurie, I’m pretty sure you get the prize for the family with the greatest number of whimsical nicknames!

    Lauren IS a beautiful name, but I doubt you’d get much luck getting people to change what they call you, especially those that love you just as you are.

    I must be playing the game wrong because all that comes up for me are some really, really awful glamour shots of non-famous people. Yikes!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Barb, I think you don’t have to take the first picture that turns up in the game, although I did because it worked for my story. My son-in-law Jin-Ho, who is getting very bored working from home, told me about it. Of course, with his first name, what came up for him was a very handsome and young Korean man. What about Barbara Stanwyck? She was a beauty! My daughter who bestowed those names on all of us is still at it. She’s a vet and has four dogs, all of whom keep receiving updated nicknames. They have no choice, but her kids have stopped responding to their baby names. Only her youngest child tolerates his nickname these days. The rest of us use these names for passwords.

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