I am named after an aunt I never met. In my version of a Jewish family, you don’t name babies after living people, only after those who have passed on. This is not true in all Jewish families. It depends on where you come from and your “tribe’s” traditions in the matter.

When I was born in 1947, there was a serious shortage of dead relatives after which to name me. Of course, there’s no law requiring you name your kid after a dead relative, but it certainly is the more popular path for naming. You don’t have to pick the whole name. You can just pick your favorite part of the name. Like, maybe the middle. Or the second middle. Or an Americanized version of the primary name — or what people who didn’t speak English thought the Americanized version might be. It accounts for the far-too-many boys named Isadore (for Itzchak or Isaac). Lacking a deep knowledge of English-language roots, baby’s name could be similar to the original Hebrew or Yiddish name by simply matching the first letter or syllable … a method resulting in some pretty bizarre names Jewish boys and girls spent a lifetime trying to lose. It’s too complicated to explain.

Even your Jewish friends can be reduced to tears of laughter. Most of us have Jewish names that we try to never mention. Anywhere. Ever. For any reason.

The only dead relative lurking about my family at the time of my birth was my grandmother’s cousin (or was it aunt?). Her name was Malka. Which means Queen in both Hebrew and Yiddish, so don’t start dissing me. The problem is that this is not a name that has an elegant North American “ring” to it.

My mother didn’t like it either and decided to name me “Mara” instead.

Mara is the Hebrew “root” word from which comes Mary, Marilyn, Maria and all the other “Mar” names. But Mara has music in it. I wouldn’t have minded it. I liked its tone in my ear.

It means “bitter.” If you don’t believe me, look it up.

The moment she told her the tribe I would be named Mara, the family leapt into the fray. “You can’t name her Mara. That means bitter! Who’d want a girl named bitter?” Mom was quite the individual, but there was only so much family pressure a woman could handle. They wore her down. Thus came Marilyn, which apparently was a great name for 1947. It remained a pretty hot name for a few more decades too.

On the other hand, Malka? Not a hit. Anywhere. Still stuck with it as my Jewish name. You don’t get to choose these things and anyone out there with one of those names they wish they didn’t have knows what I mean. I never liked my name. I still don’t like it. I don’t even know why I don’t like it. It isn’t mellow. Doesn’t have music. It’s just a name.

As a kid, I figured if I found a name I liked better, they might bestow it on me.

Me: “Mom, I’d like to be Linda. It means pretty.”

Mom: “No.”

Me: “Mom, could you call me Delores? It sound so romantic.”

Mom: “No.”

And so it went until I went to Israel where some fool told me I should use my Jewish name. I glared him down and stayed Marilyn. I could live with Marilyn, but Malka? Really? I knew two other North American ladies named Marilyn. All of us refused to change our names. Malka not only wasn’t a lovely name, it carried the whiff of “cleaning drudge.” I don’t know why. It just did.

So now, here I am. Seventy odd years later and I’m still Marilyn. Still fundamentally bitter. It doesn’t seem as bad as it did back in The Day. Whenever that was.

51 thoughts on “MY NAME IS BITTER

  1. Well, I don’t know where my parents came up with the name Leslie Anne. I don’t mind it now because I get a lot of letters to the editors published because they think Leslie is a man. It has come in handy on occasion. I think Marilyn, is lovely. I have a cousin and a good friend named Marilyn.


  2. Names are interesting and you can guess ages based upon them. If I’m somewhere and I hear “Judy,” I look around knowing full well I’m going to find another woman of my same age bracket. I always guessed that Judy was popular in those days because of Judy Garland.


  3. “Martha” means “Sorrowing servant of God.” Whaddaya gonna’ do?

    And Delores? You really want a name that means “sorrows” even if people could greet you with (wait. . .wait. . .)

    “Hello, Dolly!” 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • As of age 12, I thought this was THE romantic name. It has been a long time since I worried about having a romantic name. if I had to rename myself, I have NO idea what it might be. Sounds like Martha is another descendant of the “mara” root. Most women’s names that start with “mar” come from the same root. Mom should have stuck with Mara.

      I want “Hello, Dali !” Get them confused with my painting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s Hebrew, not Aramaic. It still means bitter, including today and this is the Hebrew root for the “mar” names. There has been a lot of research done on language. Aramaic was used quite a lot in the new testament, but names were almost universally Hebrew. And should you choose to read the books in their original language, I think you will discover — it’s Hebrew.


        • Not a choice i currently have available to me 🙂 So what is the connection between Hebrew and Aramaic languages and why does Mar mean master in Aramaic?



          • Aramaic was not a national language. It was broadly spoken by many people in the region enabling hem to talk to each other. It was common for people whose native languages were similar, but not the same, to speak Aramaic to bridge the gap, so it was in very common usage. But not being a language with roots, it also floated away eventually.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Now i come to think about it – i believe i’ve read that Aramaic was only ever a spoken language. So how do modern day scholars figure out that mar in Aramaic meant master and Martha meant mistress when there should not be any written records to study or compare??? Strange…. Has the language remained spoken continuously throughout all of the last 2000 years or did the Greeks, Romans or Jews write an Aramaic dictionary, i wonder? 🙂



                • Man is this a rabbit warren!! I looked aramaic up – i got it wrong books of the old testament were written in it so it is considered a written language and scholars today can therefore study it. it’s also still spoken today in various forms in various regions of the middle East/N Africa (including a Judeo-Aramaic version around Palestine and Israel!) I already know more than i wanted to 🙂



                  • Be careful who you ask, especially about the middle east. I live there a decade. I heard Arabic and Hebrew and a lot of variations of Arabic. I never heard a single person anywhere from any country speak Aramaic. Just saying.

                    Liked by 1 person

      • I like that.

        The urban dictionary says it means “Genuine badass”

        “(noun)a term used to describe a girl who’s a genuine badass; a successful independent woman who doesn’t take crap from no one and is well respected by everyone; everyone she meets loves her and just flat out envies how bad-ass she is; may be used in adj. form
        The new girl applied to the new teaching program and was such a bad-ass that she got in; the interviewers were stunned by her sense of martha-ness.”

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I grew up with the most abused name I can think of, and it still trails around behind me endlessly, like a lost puppy. I allow people to do Cary Grant at me (“Judy JudyJUdy”) just once. Only once. And everyone has to do it.

    they think it’s funny.

    I suspect, since my birth mother was a movie star fanatic, I was either named for Judy Garland or Judy Holliday, who were both big deals at that time. Almost everyone I know named Judy was born in that era. In a graduating class of 30 kids, four of us had the same name. When the teacher called “Judy” four hands went up.
    I always wanted to be named Jessie or Jenny. No such luck.

    My birth father’s first name was Lester, which isnt too bad considering it was turn of the century stuff. However, his younger brother was called Chester. sigh. They went through life (both of them turned out to be scientists) as L.C and C. M. and I dont blame them.


    • If I had a middle name, I might have done initials. But no middle name EITHER. I couldn’t even switch. Garry was named after Gary Cooper and yes, they spelled his name wrong. My brother was named for another dead uncle somewhere, but at least his name worked out to a nickname. I got NO nickname, NO middle name. Life can be cruel.

      I would have been perfectly happy with Judy.


  5. I don’t mind my birth name. It’s not common, and it’s not ugly… but it never fit me. I like Willow better.

    I didn’t know that Mary came from Mara. Learn something new every day.


  6. Through my entire school career, there was only one other Lois. Working…..I was the only Lois. And, of course, because it is so long, people shorten it to Lo. Or lengthen it to Louis or Louise. We cannot win with our names, can we?


  7. I suppose there are names that are forever popular and those that are popular during certain eras and then go out of style only to come back. Emma, Sophie, old fashioned names when I was young are now back in style. Mara as an English given name is popular these days- I like it- who cares what it means? My sister in laws Hebrew name is Yenta Golda- she knows no one is going to name anyone after her!


    • I had an Aunt Yetta. No one named anyone after her, either. And no one is naming anyone after me or my mother.

      Old-fashioned names have been returning for at least the past 20 years. My son was born during the heavy “J” years when all the boys and girls names started with “J.” But no one but me named their kid Owen until last year. Maybe our names will come back one day. Anything is possible 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I never gave much thought to first names when I was younger because I knew very few people that had “strange” names. Look up a list of the top baby names for those born in 1975, and about 95% of the kids I went to school with had those names. William is the perfect bland, overused first name to go with my bland, extremely overused last name. The good part of that is that you’re very hard to Google for those who might be so inclined. The bad news is how easy it is to get mixed up with one of your two million doppelgangers (There is another person with my same first and last name at work… I get asked to do his late training modules all the time)….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I looked me up and discovered there are 256 more of Marilyn Armstrong. There are 89 Garry Armstrongs —
      a lot more if you spell his name as Gary — but just 3 of Owen Kraus. I have a friends named Mike Smith. He finally changed his name. Like you, he was one of millions. Oddly, though, Garry has someone with his exact name who lives nearby. There aren’t that many of him, but one of them is right around the corner. Go figure.


    • i know at least two other people who went all the way and changed their names. I know MORE people who just sort of changed it, switched to a middle name or initials. Or, like me, just coped. But if my name were Ralph, I’d probably have had to change it too.

      Liked by 1 person

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