Friday, November 30, 2007

I see you've gone and changed your name again...

"I see you've gone and changed your name again…"
-Leonard Cohen

Names are difficult to remember. This is not only because we are more interested in having people remember our names than we are in remembering others' names. As one of the heroes of my youth, Dale Carnegie pointed out, a person's name has little to do with the person. When we are born, our parents pick a name they fancy. By the time we can read write and date, we are stuck' with our given names, whether or not we happen to like them.

My parents decided to name me Melvyn. No regular name for their first born son. They couldn't even have gone for Melvin, that would have been mundane. As with East European Jews, my Hebrew name is the name of a deceased family member, in my instance, Elimelech (or "Mailach”) in memory of my paternal grandfather.

By the time I started Hillcrest High School in 1964, my name had shortened to Mel, a considerable improvement, and with some brief intermissions, it is still the name I have used for over forty years.

When I came to Israel in 1969, the folks at the Kibbutz 'christened' me with the more common name of Yossi. It didn't stick. I then tried 'Eli', another common Israeli name, and a short form of Elimelech. But when people called me by my new name, I didn’t turn around. Back to Mel.

Nowadays with the advent of the internet, having an uncommon name is a distinct advantage. I am now corresponding with an old high school colleague, Terry Bura, who looked me up over the internet. If you google Mel Rosenberg, you find two characters. One is me. The other is Mel Rosenberg, a fictional mayor in the novels of Anne Roiphe. Not much competition, given that that other Mel Rosenberg doesn't answer e-mails. Since my books and articles are under "Mel Rosenberg", the only time you'll find me under "Melvyn Rosenberg" is on my patents (need real names there).

Terry Bura is not a common name. Neither is Hani Shukrallah. Hani was an Egyptian who studied with us at Hillcrest High School. We had animated debates (an understatement) on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was extremely eloquent. Still, I was astonished to hear from Terry that Hani went on to become the managing editor of El Aharam. I'm trying to track him down (can anyone help?) hoping that we can establish some rapport now that peace talks are underway.

So if your folks decided to call you John or Peter, and your family name is Smith, chances are that people will have trouble finding you, unless your parents have been prescient enough to call you John332 or Edw@rd.

For me, it all turned out well in the end. After all, smell well doesn't rhyme with Peter, does it? And who was it that said "A Rosenberg by any other name would smell as sweet"?

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