Does Your Name Tell Your Story?
Closing ThoughtsOpinion

Does Your Name Tell Your Story?

Shaindle shares the importance of the power of names.

Shaindle Schmuckler spreads her energy and humor as a regular contributor to the Atlanta Jewish Times.

Shaindle Schmuckler
Shaindle Schmuckler

Some folks are given their names at birth and are quite comfortable with it for their entire lives. Some folks do not consider changing their name whether the name works to tell their story, whether the name feels too cumbersome, or strange to the ear. Let me give you an example or two or three of names that stop me in my tracks: Ever, Sunlight, River, Sunday, August, Spain, America, Prince, Apple, and Egypt.

In my very own family, all of whom I dearly love, cousins and sisters alike, have changed, altered, or chosen names using a totally different language, building an alternative story if you will, to identify ourselves and to tell our story.

I am notorious for anointing folks with a nickname. Marilyn is now Maggie, and I’ve gone even further, and Maggie is Mags to me. Joyce is now Joycie to me (well, OK, the truth is I am the only one who has been calling her Joycie since she was an infant. She is all grown up now, successful and revered in her field; however, to me she is still, and I fear will always be Joycie.

Then there is Iris who is now referred to as Tamara (or as I insist on calling her “T” or Tamar); Carole, who became Khana, and yes of course I refer to her as Chanala — did you expect I would leave her name without a nickname?

Regardless of what’s recorded on their birth certificates, my loved ones know who I’m talking to when I say Pookie (no rationale, I just love the word and it fit so well), Babu (great story for another missive), Mushy (no story, just a mishigas of mine), Sabu, Peninala, Enrico, Lijey (I have no story on this one either, just another mishigas), Richie Rich, Zacharia, Jacksonian, Buzhy (sorry, no excuse or story, just one of those moments of enlightenment), Jacobi, and Josepho.

Wait, there’s more. RJ, Avi, M, and Little Bear. My husband, Gene (z”l), was Geno. For years I referred to him as Schmuckler, which was his last name, and is, of course, still mine. One day I heard him express he no longer wanted me to refer to him with his last name. So, I went back to the nickname I called him when we first started dating, Geno.

I, on the other hand, was blessed by my parents who anointed me with a name while still in the hospital when I was born. However, when my mother and father told the nurse what their choice of a name was, a name both my parents had agreed upon, and the name that would appear on my birth certificate, and eventually on my driver’s license, and my passport, this nurse went a bit off the rails.

“Oh my goodness, you can’t give her a name like that. It will label her for the rest of her life as a foreigner. No, you must give her an American name, one she would be proud to wear.”

If your curiosity is growing by leaps and bounds, I can explain. I would never leave my readers without an ending to the story.

The nurse was an American (my parents were European immigrants), named Sandra, or Sandy. She had the chutzpah to suggest the name Sandra to my confused parents. I can’t imagine what they were thinking, or how heartbroken they must have been upon hearing her response. After all, as an American she must know such things. They went with her suggestion.

However, the story of my name is far from over. My parents would usually refer to me with the nickname of Shaindle. At my baby naming at our synagogue, they gave me the name they loved: Shaina Friedel (pretty and happy).

You thought the journey of my name ended in synagogue that day. No, my friends, it certainly did not end there. When I was in first grade, I fell in love with the name Faith. No, I don’t remember why. So, I added that to my name and for most of my life, I was Sandra Faith.

In 1986, my mom took sick with cancer. Before she died, she asked me to change my name back to Shaindle, mouthing the words, “You are my Shaindle.”

I honored her by legally having my name changed. When I did, I felt as if my long journey of searching and defining who I was had ended. I felt in my heart and my soul I had finally come home.

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