When my mom was pregnant, she started a diary. It evolved as a way for her to write to a future, older me about the milestones that would take place throughout my lifetime. On occasion, my dad wrote in it, too, and continued to do so after her passing. It’s one of the most sentimental things in my home, and I could spend an entire novel trying to unpack my feelings on the words she’s left behind. However, while rereading it around the time of my wedding, I came across an entry that made me chuckle.
Monday, May 13, 1996
Actually, it’s Grace now. In the last few weeks, you’ve decided to be called Grace because it’s shorter. Not because it’s more mature sounding or because you like the way it sounds better, simply because it’s shorter. Writing that “i” just takes too long!
This hasn’t been the only struggle I’ve had with my name. Like most secular American Jews, I was given two names when I was born: an English name and a Hebrew name. My English name, Grace, is for my great-grandfather, Gus, and my former middle name, my pre-taking-my-maiden-name-as-my-middle-name name, Jocelyn, comes from another great-grandpa, Joe. My Jewish name, Golda, is the direct result of the merging of my mom’s Zionist and feminist views; I’m named after Golda Meir.
As Israel’s first and only female prime minister, she’s nothing short of controversial (although, to be fair, everything is controversial in Israel). Described as “the best man in the government” by former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, she was a feisty old woman with some of most insightful one-liners imaginable.
In my journey towards becoming more observant in my Judaism, I’ve felt pressure to change my name. Me: the one who, up until about a year ago, balked at the idea of changing my last name upon marriage. Most of it is internal, although there has been some external suggestion from well-meaning Jews who have either done the same or have only ever had a Jewish name.
I first toyed with the idea in 2012 when, after attending a funeral at a church, realized that the word “grace” meant more than just the dictionary definition of “simple elegance of refinement of movement.” Given that I’m a complete klutz 90% of the time, the definition didn’t really suit me well to begin with. But this new, Christian definition I was suddenly hearing grated on me. Every other word was my name, and I realized exactly how un-Jewish the connotation was.
After the funeral, I went to the car and called my dad, telling him that I wanted to be Golda. However, after changing it on Facebook, Golda didn’t really feel like me. It was foreign, and I already knew everyone as my English name. So, after about a week, I quietly went back to Grace.
In seminary earlier this year, I was taught that a name has a direct connection to the soul. While reading about my family history, I discovered that they used secular names outside of the home while fleeing religious persecution during the Inquisition, but resumed using their Jewish names when they came to America. If they could change their names to reflect their newfound religious freedom, why couldn’t I?
My husband calls me Gracie, and I like it. Being Golda isn’t something I’m opposed to, and it’s even something I’m considering trying again in the future. Whichever name I end up going by, my identity is sound: I am a strong, proud Jewish woman, with just a little bit of spunk, courtesy of my namesake.