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