By Any Other Name

0715mayravRecently, I texted my husband, “I’m not the woman you think I am.”

This piqued his interest, so I explained that I had just left the Registrar Recorder’s office where I discovered that my birth certificate lists my name as Mayrev, not Mayrav.

I called my mom who blamed the misspelling on her epidural. Then I looked at my official name in print. Mayrev. Mayrev. Mayrev.

This should be funny, learning how to spell your official name at 42. But I found it unsettling.

Our culture puts a premium on names. All those “begats” in the Torah serve to remind us of our heritage, of the individuals who came before us and all the characteristics that are locked up in their memorialized names. A David is a strong leader, an Ephraim is a good brother and a Delilah should be kept far from scissors.

Names are our inheritance, our way of keeping our culture alive for millennia. Rabbi Berel Wein wrote that kabalistic masters tell us to recite a verse containing our names before stepping back after the silent Amidah, in order to help us remember our names in the “hereafter.”

“Apparently even there, remembering our name is important. For in our name lies our soul and self,” he wrote. “That is why Jews always placed great emphasis on naming a child, for in that name there lay the history and past of the family and the hopes and blessings for the newborn’s success–Jewish success–in life. I know of nothing that so deeply touches a family’s nerve system as the naming of a child.”

This is why I am so bothered by the misspelling. My name is my link to an ancient Jewish narrative and my map to my evolving Jewish identity. Mayrav is who I am. Mayrev is some other person, some Who-vian alternate-universe version of me that I wasn’t supposed to find out about.

The ironic thing is that it took several decades before I even started to like my name. In junior high, I hated the “weirdness” of “Mayrav” so much I made everyone call me “May.”

By college, I came to embrace my proper moniker, but years of inexperience in saying my name caused me to mispronounce it at first. You can now identify how long a person has known me by how they pronounce my name.

How weird, then, to be Mayrev. After a few hours of trying to concentrate on work and not on the existential angst at the back of my brain, my husband called me.

“Your name is Mayrav,” he said. “With two ‘A’s.’ When we got married, you changed your name. You had to put down your first name, too. So your name is now legally Mayrav.”

“How funny,” I told him. “I took your name so I could claim my own.”

“You’re welcome,” he said.

“No,” I said. “I’m Mayrav.”

Mayrav Saar is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

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