Speaking Their Names

My parents named me Dana after two relatives they never knew – my father’s grandmother Dena who perished in czarist Russia,  and my mother’s uncle David who drowned as  a teenager in the Rockaways.

I like my name and never minded that it’s a bit uncommon,  but it’s always disconcerting when  people spell it wrong or mispronounce it.

And because Dana can be a masculine name as well,  I certainly wasn’t happy when as a high school senior I got mail from armed forces recruiters  that began,  Dear Mr Dana…

And as a kid I did miss having a nickname like all my Judith/Judy and Barbara/Bobbi and Debra/Debby and Katherine/Kathy friends.

My mother’s name was Jessica.   She once told me her parents named her after Shylock’s daughter.  But my father always called her Jess and everyone else called her Jessie including her brothers and their wives –   my uncles and aunts Milt and Rosie,  and Paul and Babs.   And to my cousins she was always their aunt Jessie.   I can’t remember anyone calling her Jessica except my elegant mother-in-law Hermine.   In turn my young son who couldn’t pronounce Hermine,  called her grandma Meen.

My father’s name was Arthur,  but he was never called Art or Artie.  Not that he was a formal guy – quite the contrary –  but he just didn’t seem like an Art or an Artie.

Actually when he was born his parents named him Albert.  But when his younger brother Steve was born,  he couldn’t pronounce Albert and called my dad Oby.  And my uncle Steve and his wife,  my aunt Dede,  used that nickname for my dad all their lives,  and thus to my cousins he was always their uncle Oby.

But as family legend has it,  when my dad started grade school,  his older sister Frances insisted their immigrant parents change his name to what Fran thought was the more American sounding Arthur.  (Years later when he applied for a passport,  my grandmother had to sign an affidavit stating that Albert and Arthur were one and the same!)

And my mother had her own name for him.   My father was a  true Renaissance man and a self-taught classical pianist,  who much admired the great conductor Toscanini.  Thus my mom called my dad Arturo after the Maestro.

When my baby sister was born my parents named her Laurie,  which I guess didn’t lend itself to a nickname,  although I called her Zuzu after a character in a children’s book we used to read together.   Laurie was very proud of her middle name which was Frances,  for my father’s much beloved sister,  my aunt Fran.

I had no older sisters,  but I did have an adored older cousin Esther who had often times been my babysitter.   Her friends and later her husband called her Essie.  But I had a childhood name for her although neither of us remembered where it came from –   I called her Conkeydoodle!   (As that was a pretty long moniker,  when writing to me,  she shortened it to Conkey.)

And I also had two male cousins,  one from each side of the family,  who shared the same nickname.  They were both called Ricky,  although one’s name  was Eric and the other’s name was Frederick.  As a child it delighted me that I had not one,  but two cousin Rickys.

But now they’re all gone,  and I miss them all.   And I miss speaking their names.

Dana Susan Lehrman


  • We had pretty crazy nicknames for my parents that evolved into other nicknames, and my older sister had a series of evolved nicknames for me as well. (She still calls me Squirto on occasion!) I’ve always liked the fact that my first name isn’t nicknameable. It gives me more energy to correct people on my last name, which even long-term friends sometimes mispronounce as Lowenstein!

  • My parents named me Amy and my brother Evan ostensibly because my mom was averse to nicknames. She thought choosing three and four letter names would decrease the likelihood that anyone would call us by anything other than our given names and, in fact, almost no one ever did. That is, no one except our mom, who inexplicably called me Tilly or Twa-la or Fezzy (or any number of loving but peculiar things) and my brother Ba or Willy or… So much for short names! 😉

  • you made us all think about the names in our families. my parents were Nathan and Roslyn, but were never called anything but Nat and Roz. my name is not shortenable (?) but the Carol Susan was used to tease me with “carol sue,” ugh. my sister tho, named Phyllis, was only “phyl” for short. my husband, Robert, is only Robert to me (and his late parents). every one else must call him Bob. so, after all this, what’s in a name?
    thanks for opening this discussion.

  • Yes, speaking their names does keep them with us and I like that. My mother thought middle names were silly and superfluous so my brother and I do not have them. I always felt cheated and longed for one. So when I was away at college, I had personalized stationery made with a middle initial N. I used that stationery to write home and my mother called to ask what the N stands for. My response: Nothing! Hmmmm. I was happy to acquire a middle initial when I married and it is now part of my legal name and I always use it.

  • Kinda love this blog bit, Dana! And I love the the photo, too. I think you should call their names whenever you feel like it – whenever you remember them. They might just answer!

    We had young married friends in London –
    Dana and Donna – Dana was forever getting mail addressed to Ms Dana …. And he did not appreciate it one bit.

    We were not a nick name family – when I was born – 17 years after my youngest sibling – one of my sisters attempted to name me Amber ( it was 1947). My father was terrified and told my mother to get on with naming me before Helen had me named every color of the rainbow! I was and am Susan. Only my father got to call me Susie. And no one gets to call me Sue. Ever!

  • Your piece on names is on target and reminiscent of many of our own backgrounds. My parents and all the relatives from Poland and Hungary had so many names in so many languages that getting to know them all was like reading a Russian novel. My own name was changed several times as well, but that’s another, longer story. You aptly describe some of the complexities of names as they relate to family histories!

    • Thanx Lynn, would love to hear the story of your many names!
      Glad you’re joining for lunch this week, see you soon!

  • Nicknames can catapult: My older brother Metrofanis Nikitas Kalafatas (Yikes!) was Class President, Editor of School Magazine, Governor of the six state New England region of Key Club International, all the while at oh-so Irish South Boston High School in the 1950s. He his well-rhymed nickname and political slogan lofted over all prejudice: “Go-Go With Metro!”

  • I was named Barbara Jane but was always called Jane or Janie. In high school, I was nicknamed Beanie and in college, I was called Beans or Beanie by my close friends. Nobody is quite sure why! To this day, even some of my friends’ kids still call me Beanie! The downside was that my teachers always called me Barbara and I always corrected them. I hated that part!

    Coincidentally, our older son’s mother in law was named Carolyn Jane, but she too, always goes by Jane! So two of our grandchildren have two grandmas named Jane! Thank you for letting me share and I so enjoyed reading your blog, Dana, as well as your friends’ stories.

    • Thanx Jane!
      I always liked your name!
      And I think it’s quite popular now with the younger generation – two friends of mine have granddaughters named Jane!
      And thanx also Jane/Beanie for being the first friend to donate to LIT on my FB birthday fundraiser!

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