‘What’s in a name? A rose by any name would smell as sweet.’(WIlliam Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet Act 2, Scene 2)
When I was born, several lifetimes it seems to me now, my scholarly grandfather gave me my name. ‘Dina’ he pronounced, ‘after one of our ancestors from the ancient town of Safed in Palestine, now Israel. Little did he know that I would manifest one of its meanings: the judged one, or sometimes the one vindicated.
I have been judged, or rather mocked, many a time for changing my name. Although my first and true name is Dina, my parents, anxious about anti-semitism, named me a safe English-French equivalent, ‘Denise’. It is on my birth certificate. ‘Dina’ is nowhere to be seen in any official document. But I much prefer it to the English version.
When I married, for the first time, I took my husband’s name, as was the custom in those pre-feminist days. It happened to be a good old Scottish surname. Entirely unsuitable for a young man wanting to embrace the Jewish faith. With our Scottish-named three-year old daughter in tow, we saw a solicitor and legally changed our name from ‘Mac-something’ to the neutral and acceptable ‘Davis’. It happened to be his mother’s maiden name, which carried a poetic justice because she was his main parent. Thus by my early twenties I’d already had three surnames: my maiden name, my first married name, and then my legally changed name. Continue reading “What’s in a Name?”