Whats in a name When Harry meets Sophie at the Kindergym

Farewell, Stacie, Traci and Casey.

Ciao, Kelsey, Kimberly and Tiffany.

Au revoir, Ian, Sean and Dylan.

Welcome back, Sophie, Benjamin, Jacob and Sarah.

Generations of Jews who followed the letter of tradition, claiming that little Gabrielle was named for Great-grandma Gertrude — may she rest in peace — are now recovering the spirit of that tradition with a name that reflects their heritage.

Tiffany is returning to her rightful place — solitaire, in a locked glass case — and Kimberly Clark is also back on the shelf, along with Scotties and Kleenex.

But Sophie has returned — if not with a bang, then with a whimper. She's uttering her first kvetch in maternity wards throughout the country. Somewhere my grandmother must be kvelling.

Nana Sophie was born in New York in 1891, the middle child of five born to European immigrants. Sometime in grade school, one of her teachers decided to call her Sophia, which became her official written name. But Nana was always Sophie to those who knew her.

I never knew how Nana felt about her name, but I'm sure she wasn't happy when Philip Roth chose to bestow it on Portnoy's mother. And I'm not sure how she felt about the brassy Sophie Tucker. You see, Nana, like many children of immigrants, worked hard at developing gentility. She spoke softly, even when she kvetched. And she only used Yiddish words in very safe circles. Never in business and never among German Jews, where such expressions were verboten.

When Nana selected a name for her own daughter, she certainly wouldn't have wanted to burden her with anything old-fashioned, like the name of her own grandmother, Yetta. Instead, she named my mother for her husband's German-born mother, Caroline. That name, a favored choice among royal families, may have had an aristocratic ring to it, but my mother's name, Carolyn — or Carol, as she has always been called — was strictly New World, democratic, girl-next-door.

While I was given a middle name, Ellen, adapted from Austrian Great-grandma Ella's name, my first name came from celluloid — Janet Gaynor, not Leigh, a contemporary of Lillian Gish. Nobody in my generation had heard of her.

Of course, there were plenty of Janets when I was growing up. While my mother's friends were Dorothys and Beatrices and Florences, I went to school with Karens, Lindas, Stevens and Barrys who gave birth to Deirdres, Nicoles, Jasons and Erics.

My generation, unlike that of our parents, did not change our surnames. But we often came up with some creative, if not ill-fitting, combinations of the Tiffany Lipschitz variety. My son actually went to camp with Hayley Kotlowitz.

Fortunately, if birth announcements in the Bulletin and reports from rabbis are a good indication, the next generation is choosing names that fit. It's not just David, Rachel, Joshua and Sarah, which are almost universal now. It's also Hannah, Leah and Miriam, Max and Sam and Isaac.

In addition to choosing biblical names, many Jews who may never have lived in Israel are selecting names popular in the Jewish state: Ze'ev, Yitzhak, Aviva, Tamar, Eitan and Noa — with an "h" added for boys.

The trend shows a measure of self-acceptance, honoring our grandparents' names not as cumbersome albatrosses but as gifts of our heritage. Isn't it time to leave Deirdre to the Irish, Ian to the Scots and Tiffany to the ring manufacturers?

While we're at it, how about bringing back Sheldon and Melvin and Irving and Sadie? And let's hear it for Morris and Rose and Lillian and Siggy and Solly. Besides, Sophie's going to need company. She can't kvetch to a Kelsey. She needs Selma.

And Max is going to need somebody to play pinochle with, somebody who can put up with his shreiing. Dustin won't do. Where's Harry?

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].