In Her Memory by
(8 Stories)

Prompted By Nicknames

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In westerns, Sarah was always the “good woman”, never a dance hall gal.


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,  when she was 38,  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 honor.  My mother wanted to give me my grandmother’s actual name. Her only bow to modernity was to take of 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”: “You’re giving the baby the plain middle name of “Jane” when you’re already sticking her with the name “Sara”!  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 grade or in the entire school. How I desperately wanted a more popular or catchy name. I  had 3 close friends named “Carol”,  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? I played around with nicknames and  I called myself “Sary”  in my diary.  When I started high school I told some friends I wanted to  use  that name. But too many people knew me as “Sara”,  and “Sary”did not stick.

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 college 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  are 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: funny, well written


  1. Love you AND your name Sara, so glad you joined me at Retrospect!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Sara, it is so interesting how names go in and out of fashion. Biblical names are all the rage now (as are many other “old fashioned” names. I have friends with grandchildren named Sadie and Sophie, to name a few). Look at Gwyneth Paltrow who names one child Moses ( the other is named Apple, but what can you do?).

    Yes, names like Linda and Susan were all the rage when you were young. I rarely encountered another Betsy growing up (granted, it wasn’t from the Old Testament), but I thought that made it distinctive.

    I didn’t know that Sara meant Princess. I like that and am glad that now it gives you the affinity with your Bubbie and your Jewish roots. I have a young cousin whose real name is Sari. She will soon begin her PhD in immunology. I told her we need her NOW! Thanks for sharing your name’s journey with us.

    • I have a cousin named Betsy, but it’s a nickname for Beth. I love the name, I think, partly because I love my cousin Betsy! Did you ever notice that if there was a unfavorable experience with someone early in your life, the name often stayed with you as a negative? Or just the opposite if you heard a name connected with someone exciting or wonderful? After I saw the film the “Ten Commandments”, I always wanted a son named Joshua because I fell in love with the actor John Derek who played the role!

    • Yes the old/fashioned names are back!
      We named our son Noah to honor Danny’s late father Naftali. Of course when HE came to the States he took the American name Nat.

      But that reminds me of the 2 Jewish grandmas who meet. One is pushing her infant grandson in his carriage and proudly tells her friend,
      “They named him Shloime after his grandfather, my late husband Scott.”

  3. Sara is such a beautiful name, I’m glad you came back to it. Our language is so fickle — dropping the ‘h’ didn’t change the pronunciation, yet my granddaughter’s name is Hana (rhymes with Hosanna) and people pronounce it as Hannah (rhymes with banana) and she has to correct them (which she doesn’t enjoy doing). Sara reminds me of the song by Fleetwood Mac (which I mentioned in my story Word Nerd). When you changed it to Sari, did the pronunciation change (as in the sari worn by Indian women)?

    I love old-fashioned names and they’re very much in style. I’m waiting for Earl, my dad’s name, to come back. My mom’s name, Evelyn, has made a modest comeback, but Ethel Gladys, my grandmother’s given name, not so, and not likely. Gertrude anyone? I don’t think so. How wonderful and how fortunate you are that your mother told you your birth was the happiest moment of her life!

    • Yes, I pronounced “Sari” like the Indian garment. (I don’t think I even knew about such a thing then.) I’ve always been interested in names, their meaning and derivation. My daughter picked up my interest and was very particular in choosing names for her children. (Not only was she interested in the meaning and sounds of a name, she also considered how it sounded with her last name. I know several people who should have considered this, but did not. I do not want to list them because they might read this!) My granddaughter is named “Noa” which is not a variation of the ark guy in the Bible, but is an entirely different character. It has a feminist twist since Noa and her sisters were the first women in the Bible to be granted the right to own property.(Ut’s very popular in Israel) Noa often has to spell the name when she introduces herself. I had to chuckle at your example of the name Ethel never making. comeback. I had a beloved aunt named Bertha and my daughter would have loved to honor his memory. But Bertha? Oy! Little Berthas, Ethels, & Gertrudes will never reappear, I believe! (She did use a “B” for Noa’s middle name, calling her “Bay” because my aunt loved waterscapes. A bit of a stretch but at least it was something!)

  4. Just remembered something I heard from my friend Inks. (And how’s that for a nickname? She apparently hated her real name early on and changed it.
    I know her for 50 years and she won’t tell me what it was, altho rumor has it that it was Edna.)

    When Inks’ granddaughter was born, the parents named her Selma . Inks was beside herself. I told her to shut up and be grateful she had a beautiful, healthy grandchild!

    • Ha! Ha! Love the story about Shloime/Scott. (I can certainly relate to grandkids having Yiddish names!) Everyone, of course, thinks that my granddaughter Noa has a boy’s name. So I always tell the story of your Noah. How, when he visited Israel and told people his name, people thought he had a girl’s name!

  5. Marian says:

    Cool rundown, Sara. I love your experiment with Sari and really like the Biblical names in vogue now.

  6. Suzy says:

    Great story about your experiences with the name Sara and the nickname Sari. I think in our day a common nickname for Sarah was Sally, but that’s not a name you hear much any more. It’s funny about how names go in and out of style. One of my best friends growing up had the middle initial S and would never tell me what it stood for. After many years, she finally admitted that it was Sarah. At that time it was uncool, as you say. By the time my children were in school, half the girls they knew were named Sarah. It had become the height of popularity!

  7. John Zussman says:

    What an interesting reflection on names given and names taken. I think Sara is a fine name, and the lack of “h” makes it more exotic, but thinking back to our childhood I’m not surprised that you were dissatisfied. Of course, I’m John, and you can’t get more plain than that. I was named after my uncle Joseph, who passed away before I was born, and I feel less of a bond with him because we don’t truly share a name. So at least you have that.

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