Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A rose by any other name

What’s in a name? Are you happy with your name? If you had a chance, would you change it?

A name is something that belongs to us. It is both a part of us and a part of how others perceive us. But how unique is it?

It wasn’t until the age of Google, that I realized how common “David Lloyd” was.  A simple google search of the name turned up about 16 million results. That sort of lessens your sense of worth, don’t you think? But what’s in a name, really?

Listen to what Shakespeare had to say, in Twelfth Night.

CLOWN:  You have said, sir. - To see this age! - A sentence is but a cheveril glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turned outward!
VIOLA:  Nay, that's certain; they that dally nicely with words may quickly make them wanton.
CLOWN:  I would, therefore, my sister had had no name, sir.
VIOLA:  Why, man?
CLOWN:  Why, sir, her name's a word; and to dally with that word might make my sister wanton.

Is it better to have a name that goes by unnoticed, or one so unique as to catch the interest of all around you?  Remember those days in elementary school when the teacher would insist on reading out the names, one by one, for attendance? David Lloyd didn’t bring about any snickering, but anything uniquely different at the time brought about endless teasing. However, if you did survive the teasing, an unusual name later in life could help you make your mark. Don’t you wish now that you had one of those names that barely fills up a page in a google search result? So unique that google actually offers alternatives. (“Did you mean...?”) They never offered an alternative for David Lloyd.

Another problem of having a common name is the people that you share it with. There is a David Lloyd  - professor of English at the University of Southern California - who is aggressively leading an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. I received a phone call once, late at night,  from someone in Israel.

“Did you know that I searched your name in google and got this person organizing a boycott of Israel?”
“It isn’t me.”
“Maybe so, but he has the same name.”
“It isn’t me.”
“It’s on google.”
“He lives in California and I live in Israel.”
“Maybe you should do something, so that people don’t think he is you.”
“Right, I’ll get on it right away,” I said politely, hanging up.

Why can’t people confuse me with the David Lloyd who wrote one of the most beloved episodes ever in a comedy sitcom - the infamous “Chuckles the Clown” episode on The Mary Tyler Moore Show? There was a man who left a true legacy. If only I could meet the challenge that he set for the rest of the David Lloyds out there in the world.

Here is something else that Shakespeare wrote about a name: in Romeo and Juliet:

JULIET:  “What’s a Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title: - Romeo, doff thy name; And for that name, which is no part of thee, Take all myself.”

Some people do change their name, for all sorts of reasons: artistic, political, a desperate attempt at trying to reinvent themselves... but I don’t see the point. You are who you are, and your name is a part of that.

Well, actually we weren’t born with a name labelled on our heads. This was decided upon by our parents, however misguided some of them may have been. (Remember the Johnny Cash song - “A boy named Sue”?) Deciding on a name for your children is no simple feat. Adva and I had to do it three times. And this was before the age of Internet when we had to actually buy books designed for helping you name your child. I had two ways of testing how well a name sounded. One was imagining how it sounded when calling the child in for dinner:
“Joshua, come into the house right now for dinner!!”
Doesn’t quite work, does it?
And the other was imagining all of the pet names people would make of it: Josh, Joe, Joey, Gee Willikers...
As if this wasn’t enough, we had the added complication of not only finding a more modern sounding Hebrew name (unlike the dated Biblical names: Devorah, Rivka, Abigail, Esther, Shimon, Avraham, Aharon...), but one that could be easily pronounced by the non-Hebrew speaking side of the family - those back in the old country. You didn’t want to have a “chet” stuck in there somewhere which would cause people to choke when trying to pronounce it.
“That’s what I said, Hannah.”
“No, Chana.”
“Cha... “ cough, cough., choke...
“Get the woman some water!”

All said, though, picking a name for our first child, Edan, was rather easy. It took us a little longer, though, to choose a name for our second son, Noam. But by the time we came to our third and last child, it was anything but easy. Knowing that it would be a girl, we were nowhere near agreement as the delivery date neared. We must have tried out every Hebrew name in the book on each other: from Modern Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew... even Proto-Semitic. And then, as the clock ticked down, realizing that the Hebrew option was exhausted, we settled on something quite different.

I remember walking down a kibbutz path the day after Adva gave birth and meeting one of the founding kibbutz members.
“I hear that Adva gave birth,” she smiled sweetly.
“Yes, a baby girl?”
“And what’s her name?”
“Nicole!” I had to catch her as she almost fell over backwards. “That’s not a Hebrew name!” she exclaimed.
“Yes,” I concurred, and moved on.

I guess we have to be grateful that we didn’t have to choose a middle name as well for each of our children. Israelis only have first and last names. I never could figure why we needed a middle name. Although, when I did put “David Gregory Lloyd” into a google search, only about 3,600 results showed up. So maybe I should have used first, middle and last name, as some people do. It would have made my name a little more unique and probably stop people from phoning me in the middle of the night asking me why I want to boycott Israel.


  1. I have no apologies for naming you "David Gregory".
    The first name was after a well loved biblical character.
    The second after a well loved actor.
    They were both achievers. Hasn't this inspired you?


  2. Those are definitely two inspiring characters. And I remember Gregory Peck best for his inspiring role in "To Kill a Mockingbird" - a role which left an important imprint upon American cinema. And of course, who can forget his adventures in the streets of Rome with Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, one of my favourites.

  3. Until 6th grade, in the USA, I was the only Naomi in my ENTIRE school. But it was a good name back then, even though it wasn't common. That's because it is a familiar name and noone misspelled it or had trouble pronouncing it.
    Then I moved to Israel and there were 2 other Naomi's in my CLASS (neither of whom were friendly!).
    Today the name seems to have disappeared among the younger generation. Using my maiden name helps narrow the Google search dramatically!

    Fun topic to ponder upon!

  4. What a riot on this post having the mother respond.... If I didn't know you both and read that I would still find it highly entertaining. Can we rise any higher than the hopes of those who changed our diapers....David I loved this post. This type of writing really is your forte. Sort of a cozy but intellectually bracing nostalgic musing .... Virtual Baby Boomer Proust for our times....