What’s in a Name?
‘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.
Two more children followed our daughter, and took the name Davis which they hold to this day. Both my daughters, strong feminists as they are, kept this name after partnering, and one gave her name to her sons, ignoring the patriarchal custom of naming children after their father.
So for much of my life I became Denise Davis, until one day in a class of migrants I was teaching, no one could pronounce a name with so many consonants. So I made use of my middle name, ‘Carole’ (my romantic mother named me after the movie star Carole Lombard). This is when the consternation started. ‘Are you Denise or Carole?’ ‘Who do I ask for when I ring you at work?’ Family members were bemused, and not a little irritated.
But worse was to come: after my second marriage I temporarily tacked his name onto mine, more to please his conservative parents than for any other reason. Was I Carole Davis, Denise Davis, Carole Edwards, or Denise Davis Edwards? I settled on the latter as my official name, and suffered much mockery from my colleagues.
Freedom to be myself came at last when I finally left the paid workforce and followed my lifelong dream of becoming a writer. For over fifteen years now I have proudly adopted my true given name, Dina. My writer and reader friends and followers all know me as Dina, but my family can’t quite get their tongues around it having known me all their lives by my English name. I cringe slightly now when I hear them call me by that name, as if my true name, ‘Dina’, is somehow out of their reach. But it is my name, and I love it.