Shakespeare said it first: “What’s in a name?” then continued, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” That’s what the bard got wrong. Take it from someone who knows.
For some unfathomable reason, I was named Rosanne by my very caring, Jewishly committed parents. What were they thinking? I was born in Newark’s famed Weequahic neighborhood where all the other kids were Jewish like me. I could have been a Rachel, Ruth, or Rebecca. But I was not. And, true, I had a Hebrew name — Shoshana — but it was never used; it was like an unnecessary appendage, there, but not there.
My antipathy toward my English name was so strong that I remember writing an essay in third grade titled, “If I had a wish.” The first line: “If I had a wish, I’d wish my name were not Rosanne.” My reasoning then had nothing to do with the lack of Jewishness in my name, it was more about the uniqueness of it, which led to misspellings and an infinite variety of nicknames. Think Rosie, Rosebud, Roxanne, Ro, and on and on. And spellings such as Roseann, Rose Ann, and more.
Of course, I often asked my parents about the origin of my name, which I think they eventually regretted choosing. Their response seemed so logical: “We wanted to name you after your grandmother, Rifka, who would have been called Rose if she had lived in America. If you were named Rose, we were afraid you’d be called Rosie,” a fate worse than death. So Rosanne it was.
This month I was blessed to attend the brit milah of our second great-grandchild. As tradition dictates, no one beyond the baby’s parents had a clue as to what he would be named, although we knew it would be a Hebrew name that could be easily pronounced in English.
Their first son, almost 2, was named — with the drama of the big announcement at his own brit — Noam, which means “pleasant.” In synagogue, we sing of our Torah and its “darchei noam,” ways of pleasantness, and our Noam has fulfilled the essence of his name. He is indeed a very pleasant fellow — calm and easygoing.
So, what would the next boy be called? The week following his birth was filled with speculation. Even his grandfather and mohel, Rabbi Mark Cooper of Oheb Shalom in South Orange, wondered what he would be called in Israel and throughout the world.
The platters of food for the seudat mitzvah, the festive meal at the brit, arrived, as did the guests, shortly thereafter. Last to enter was the young man himself, handsomely attired with a tiny bow tie to indicate that this was a special day in his life.
Lots of attention was given to Noam, now filling the shoes of big brother. Since the baby’s homecoming from the hospital until the brit, Noam had simply called him, “baby.”
The circumcision was swift and professional, with nary a cry from the newborn, showered during this pivotal moment with joyous singing and festive guitar playing. And then came the (other) big moment, and we welcomed Itai by his name, for the first time, and prayed for a long, healthy, happy, peaceful forever.
Itai means friendly. So far, he seems to be just that. And unlike the Anglo Rosanne, the name Itai will mark him as a son of his people.
May we all rejoice that Itai is now amongst us.
Rosanne Skopp is a frequent blogger for the Times of Israel. She lives in West Orange and Herzliya, Israel.