Lauren Bacall marries Fredric March by
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Prompted By What's in a Name

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Lauren Bacall, whose birth name was Betty Joan Perske

In the Jewish tradition, my husband and I were named after dead ancestors to honor their memory.  My name was Yiddish, Liba Sheva for my mother’s maternal grandmother. My maternal grandmother often called me Mamala. My husband’s was Ephraim for his maternal grandfather Frank’s Hebrew name. But our given names, selected by our parents, were ones they favored from popular movie stars — Lauren for me after Lauren Bacall and Fredric for him (note spelling) for Fredric March. Our parents kept the first letter of the names of the people honored by our birth, but after that they went with what appealed to them.

Fredric March (birth name Ernest Frederick McIntyre Bickel) with Carol Lombard

The names selected by our parents were ones they favored from popular movie stars — Lauren for me after Lauren Bacall and Fredric for him for Fredric March.

Of course, because we grew up in the nickname era, Lauren became Laurie and Fredric became Freddie and then Fred. Over the years, I wish I had reclaimed my given name of Lauren like my friend Diane, who ditched DeDe when she was a young adult. So, when it came to naming our own kids, we tried to select names we hoped would remain intact. Our son was named after my husband’s Uncle Irwin, but we couldn’t come up with an “I” name we liked at the time, so he became Jonathan Ian. Of course, somewhere along the line, he shortened it to Jon.

With our daughters, we succeeded in coming up with names that did not invite nicknames. Alissa Karen was an easy choice, as my husband’s father Albert and my grandmother Ida (Chaya/Karen) had died just before she was born. But her baby sister was a greater challenge. We wanted to name her to honor my grandfather Philip, but we were unable to agree on a “P” name. Somehow, she ended up being Dana Elizabeth with a Hebrew name of Batya, that supposedly related somehow to a translation of my grandfather’s name. Being the youngest, she always objected to having the shortest name in the family, but then went on to name her daughter Ava. Go figure.

I have wondered over the years how my grandparents felt about their American names after they emigrated here from Lithuania. I know my maternal grandparents, Alice and Philip, had Yiddish names, lost to me, that they abandoned. Alice’s last name was Klavir, likely from the Yiddish/German word for piano, “klavier.” Philip’s family name ended up being Krut, although most of his relatives spelled it Kroot. My paternal grandparents’ family names were changed at Ellis Island. Philip’s ended up being Levine, although most of his family chose the spelling Levin. My paternal grandmother, Chaya Gittel Beerzh, became Ida Gertrude Rosenberg. Perhaps they were happy to shed their old names and identities to become Americans. Wish I had thought to ask them about this.

Chaya Gittel Beerzh in Lithuania, who became …

 

Ida Gertrude Rosenberg in America

Naming a child can become quite complicated, especially when trying to honor multiple traditions and cultures. One of my granddaughters, whose parents are Jewish and Korean, eventually ended up with the name Maya Halle Jin Chung. The Halle was for a recently discovered relative on my side killed in the Holocaust named Hodel, and the Jin was for her Korean heritage, as her father’s name is Jin-Ho. But there’s more. She also has the Hebrew name of Chana (for Hodel) Laya (for her great grandmother Lillian). That’s a ton of names for her to carry on her slight frame, but she is proud that there is a lot of heritage packed into her name.

Maya’s Bat Mitzvah

Maya wearing her Hanbok (top only) for Korean New Year

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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Characterizations: moving, right on!

Comments

  1. Thanx Laurie for the story of your family’s names and for the wonderful photos, including your lovely granddaughter on the bimah!

    And lovely to hear that one of your daughters has my name! My parents named me Dana after my mother’s uncle David who drowned as a teenager, and my father’s grandmother Dena who is assumed to have perished in Ukraine. Sad but true!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Your version of Dana truly honors important people in your family. My now 16-year-old granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah was truly memorable. She did a great job but also shared it with her older sister who has language and learning disabilities. It was a very special day. Sometime, I will share that story if I can fit it into a prompt.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    As you point out so beautifully, we carry our lineage with us, Laurie. Names have significance and we carry our ancestors with us as we take their names, in whatever form. Your granddaughter carries much, but with grace and poise. The photos are just wonderful.

  3. Suzy says:

    How wonderful to be named after Lauren Bacall, she is one of my favorite actresses (although, as you point out, her name was really Betty). And that you and Fred were both named after movie stars. Interesting about your grandparents’ names being changed at Ellis Island. Did both of your grandfathers end up with the name Philip? That seems like quite a coincidence!

    I love learning about your granddaughter Maya, and all her names, representing all aspects of her heritage. I’m glad that she is proud of it.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      It is interesting about my grandfather’s, although I’m sure the name was some Americanized version of a Yiddish name. At least one of them was named Fishe, of Fivel. That part is lost to me. Maya is very proud of all of her names, as they represent her heritage.

  4. Marian says:

    I too wish I’d asked my grandparents how their names impacted their identities–which would have been a rather sophisticated question at the time for a young person. Love the bi-cultural names for your granddaughter. My niece’s mom is Peruvian, and my niece was named Elizabeth because it is both a Jewish and Spanish name. Who knew, but great solution. Your granddaughter is absolutely gorgeous, by the way.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    So much is indeed in a name! I like the fact that there is always a story, and Maya will be closer to her roots for carrying her names. It is too bad that so many names and connections have been lost over the years, but finding out the stories is like finding treasure.

  6. Susan Bennet says:

    A wonderful story, Laurie. I especially appreciated your comments about the Americanization of names.

    Just before she passed at age 100, I searched for and found graduation materials pertaining to the conferral of her Radcliffe master’s degree @ 1947. I made a copy and took it to show her, I thought she would be pleased. Her name was listed as X Helen X, but when she saw it she hesitated and said, That perhaps should have been “Hannah.” I was sorry she felt she had to fit in in that way at that time. We’ve evolved over time.

  7. John Shutkin says:

    I love and thank you for the explanation of your family names and the Jewish traditions relating to them (and thanks to Jon C., also). I really only had a general sense that the naming was to be after a deceased direct relative. And the story about the derivation of your and your husband’s names is a terrific coincidence. But I’m delighted that my parents didn’t seem to be as star-struck as your parents and in-laws; they might have named my brother and me Groucho and Harpo.

    And yes, naming can be very complicated and there are so many stories of people who hate their names. I remember learning in anthropology of various societies where children are given only “placeholder” first names at birth, and then later get to choose their names themselves. I think there is a lot to be said for that system — though I doubt I would have chosen the same name at age twenty that I would have chosen at age ten.

    That said, Maya has a beautiful name and is just plain beautiful.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thank you, John. I love how Maya welcomed all of those names and takes her role to share her heritage seriously (although at age 16, she seems to be more obsessed with ballet, driving, and boys). I’m glad your parents didn’t name you Groucho and Harpo, but I do wonder, if given the opportunity to name ourselves, we would still be pleased with those choices as we aged.

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