From Sara to Sari to Sara by
(16 Stories)

Prompted By What's in a Name

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“You’re giving the baby the plain middle name of 'Jane' when you’re already sticking her with the name 'Sara'”?

My mother told me my birth was the happiest moment of her life.  She already had son, a wunderkind about whom she would brag about to the exhaustion of everyone around her. But Mom desperately wanted a girl and she knew that my birth at 37, would be her last. She was not fantasizing about dressing a daughter in pink ribbons, it was to honor the memory of her mother Sarah, who died suddenly and tragically. The shock  was deep and painful and clung to the family like a dark cloud.

My parents did not just use the letter “S” and name me Susan, Sharon or Sandra, in Sarah’s memory  as did other Jewish families at the time.   My mother wanted to give me my grandmother’s actual name. Her only bow to modernity was to take off the “h”.

So I was named Sara  and my mother and her 5 siblings were ecstatic.  But I was stuck with an old fashioned “granny” name! (In dishing with the other yentas on Bronx benches, a friend said to my mother when told that her  first choice for my  middle name was to be “Jane”  was,  “You’re giving the baby the plain middle name of ‘Jane’ when you’re already sticking her with the name ‘Sara’”?  So they decided to use Judith.)

My mother often reminded me that my name in Hebrew means “princess”, but it did not make me feel any better. In my 13 years in New York City schools, there was no other Sara in my class, my  grade or in the entire school. How I desperately wanted a more popular or catchy name. I  had 3 close friends named “Carol”,  and many classmates were named either “Barbara”, “Susan” or “Linda”, or the  most popular,  “Judy.”

The name Sarah not only evoked elderly women, but was the leading character in “Sarah, Plain and Tall” .  In westerns, Sarah was always the “good woman”, never a dance hall gal. What kind of role model was this for for a girl who wanted adventure and romance?

So when I went away to college, I announced to my new friends that my name was now “Sari”! (I had  observed that any name ending in  an “i” had a bit of panache.)  I instantly felt hip and more attractive. (I thought I was the only girl in the entire university named Sara,  until I met someone named Sally who was also a secret Sarah. It created a real bond between us.)

I answered to the name  “Sari” for four years. But more and more I felt comfortable with my real name, and when I graduated  I decided to discard my nickname. (When someone calls asking for “Sari” I know they are college friends.) I began to treasure the beauty of a biblical name and had a new found appreciation of the name “Sara” as a connection to my late Bubbie, my family and my Jewish roots.

I have been surprised to see how many of my friends have granddaughters and nieces   named Sara. I wonder if they are pleased knowing how many girls share their name.  I hope they all know that their name means “Princess.” 

Profile photo of Sara Gootblatt Sara Gootblatt

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    How funny that you were the only Sara in your entire school, when nowadays it is such a common name! My sisters and I were named Barbara, Judy, and Susan, three of the names you list as the most popular in our era, and how I wished for an uncommon name! You got that by becoming Sari, which made you feel hip and attractive! But then after college you went back. Thanks for the saga of Sara!

  2. Marian says:

    I’m glad you went back to Sara, always thought it was a lovely name. I do know one Sari, and I’m not sure if that was a nickname or her given name.

  3. A wonderful name. I guess it just took you a while to come around.

  4. Altho I knew you as Sara in elementary school , by the time you were Sari we had lost touch!

    But I’m so thankful that years later by serendipity I met Sara again!

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love that you were named directly for your beloved grandmother, Sara. And it is true, Biblical names have made a real resurgence (my oldest is David).

    I could have written your opening sentence, as my mother told me almost exactly the same remarks: she was happy when her first born was a son for our father, but she was thrilled when I was born; then SHE had a daughter for herself. And she was 39 when I was born.

    Interesting that you went with “Sari” in college for a bit more panache, then moved back to Sara later, appreciating its Biblical roots and link to your late Bubbie. We all try on different personas throughout our lives; you found the one that really works for you.

  6. Risa Nye says:

    When registering for classes many decades ago at UC Berkeley, I discovered there was a student named Sari with my same last name! Sari is my name scrambled, and I thought at first it was a clerical error. But no, there was someone with a name almost identical to mine! Never got the chance to meet her. Thanks for telling your story!

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    My aunt was likely named Sora (Yiddish) but that became Sarah when she went to school. When she moved to Israel as a teen, she became Sara. Now that’s a common spelling, but I always loved the spelling Sara because I thought she was so brave and cool.

    • My mother-in-law was named Sarah, but like many daughters of immigrant parents, she opted to change her name ….in this case to “Sybil”. When I met her son there was a special bond, I believe, with his grandmother because I had the name her daughter had rejected.

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