Thursday, November 26, 2009

Onomastic Bubbleplastic

The blogger known as Mississippi Fred MacDowell comments to "Using the Title Rabbi" on Hirhurim blog:

That's true across the board. Almost no one in Europe with a kinnui used their Hebrew name except when they were called to the Torah. The Netziv was known as "Reb Hersh Leib."

But I wonder. Is it just "kinnui", or is there an avoidance of first names? The Netziv's full name was "Naftali Tzvi Yehuda", while "Hersh Leib" only translates the last two names. Yes, I know, the animal associated with the tribe of Naftali is a Tzvi (deer). Still, people used a Yiddish pronunciation of Naftali for people who didn't have other names, e.g. Naftali Brandwein, one of the top klezmer clarinetists in America between the wars. My father played with him once in the late 1930s, when Dad was in the house orchestra in a Catskills hotel. After the show, they all went out to the deli in Monticello, and when Brandwein started playing, windows popped open all over town, people shouting "Naftulle's back! Naftulle's back!"

Anyway, back to the main point. I was thinking about my mother's (Litvish - Kovno and Suvalk, mostly) family, many of whom had double names, whether Hebrew/Yiddish or Hebrew/Hebrew, and in almost all cases, the second name was the one they used. Particularly where they or their parents were the immigrants. Those whose parents grew up here, used first names.

  • Grandpa (Tzvi Hersh on his ketubba) known as Heshke when young, Harold as an adult. (Lawyer)
  • His brother Uncle Joe (Yosef Ezra) Ezzie as a kid, Joe in college and later. (CCNY history professor)
  • Great-grandpa Louis Cohen (Yitzchak Eliezer) - used the name Louis (founded Brooklyn Jewish Center)
  • His brother Joseph H. Cohen (Yechizkiyahu Yosef) - used Joseph (founded The Jewish Center)

And beyond them, what does Shulamith Soloveitchik Meiselman say her brother Yosef Dov was called by his family? Berel - again the second name, not Yossel.

Thinking about your (particularly Litvish) older relatives with two names, who would have followed European speechways rather than American, does anyone else notice a similar pattern?

What does it mean? Debbie (Mrs. Thanbo) speculates that since everybody is named for an older relative, perhaps the older relatives were known by their first names as adults, so children are called by the second name to differentiate. That sounds possible. I, for instance, Jonathan Jay, was named for an uncle who died in childhood. He was called "Jonny" by his parents (my grandparents). But my grandparents called me "Jay" or "JJ", because I was NOT Jonny. Actually, my brother has more his personality. But then, what about Reb Hersh Leib, who was apparently known as such as an adult?

Happy Turkey, everybody. Thanksgiving has some bittersweet memories, as it was the end of shiva for my grandpa (Harold, mentioned above) in 1980. That was the one year we didn't have a Thanksgiving dinner, of course - Grandma used to make it, and she certainly wasn't about to, nor was Mom, both aveilot. So we went out to Fine and Schapiro (the local kosher deli) and had turkey sandwiches for lunch.

But most Thanksgiving memories are fun - we lived on the Upper West Side, so went to the parade every year. Except 5th grade, when it was pouring*. When I got older, I would go to the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue for shacharit and Tgvg breakfast, and watch the parade from their porch. My grandparents lived around the corner from the synagogue, so Mitch & I would go right over to them after the parade and have some just-us time without our parents at Grandma & Grandpa's.

This year, we're hosting my family. Debbie's mother has remarried, and doesn't keep kosher, so she's going to Tgiv with her husband's children.

So Happy Thanksgiving, for those who celebrate it.

* Why do I remember the weather in 5th grade? We stayed home and watched the parade on TV. We were watching band after band march past, with rank upon rank of clarinets, which are the violins of a marching band - the main instrument, if not the flashiest. Mom suggested "would you like to play clarinet, like your grandpa Beckerman (Dad's father)?" "OK, I'll give it a try." And I played all through high school. My fingers still know where to go, if I have no lip any more. But it was good training, and I still play recorder. The upper register on the clarinet has the same fingerings as the C recorders (soprano, tenor), while the lower register has the same fingerings as the F recorders (sopranino, alto, bass)


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Thinking about it anecdotally, you are correct in my family as well (avoiding the first name), although my ancestry is not Litvish. This may well have been a component of a naming practice.

thanbo said...

Another example, from my wife's family. Her grandfather was known as Jack (Jacob) Korpus. So when her father was nifter, we put "Aharon Ely' ben Yaakov" on the gravestone.

Then, while browsing on the Intarwebs, I find a website for a Jewish cemetery in Birmingham AL, with pictures of the gravestones. Sure enough, there are Debbie's grandparents. But the stone says "AVRAHAM Yaakov ben Mordechai. Well, I don't think we're about to recut the stone, but still, there it is: he used his second name (Jacob) and ignored the first name.

We're not sure where they're from, his immigration record says he came from Palestine, and before that his parents were born in "Austria", but that could be anywhere in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and I'm beginning to think Galicia, that being where the biggest concentration of Korpuses (Korpi?) can be found in the JewishGen lists.