In my lifetime, I have had four last names. Perhaps you are wondering how this is possible. Well, here’s my story:
I was born a Berman. This seems like a pretty simple name. However, would you believe there were people who pronounced it “Beerman?” Why would they think that? Nobody called Cher “Cheer.” The first time this happened was in school when a teacher was calling the roll on our first day. When she said “Linda Beerman,” I didn’t even answer. I thought there was another Linda whose name was similar to mine. (Linda was a very popular baby girl name in 1945.) When the teacher repeated it, I raised my hand and said, “It’s Berman, and here I am.” Maybe she apologized, but really, I don’t remember.
Some of my readers will be thinking, That’s easy. Pronounced as it looks with a short E. But you would be wrong. It’s pronounced with a long E (the opposite of Berman). Most people who pronounce it this way spell it Liebowitz, and people know it’s the long E.
When I married my first husband, he was in the Marine Corps and stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC, which is located in the tiny town of Jacksonville. Few Jews lived there. I found a job working as a clerk in a small department store. My immediate supervisor was an older woman who called me “Mrs. LeBOWitz.” When I corrected her, she said, “Oh, sorry” but continued to mispronounce my name every time she said it. I told her, “You can just call me Linda, if you want.” Her response was that it wasn’t “professional.” I guess she didn’t think mispronouncing someone’s name was unprofessional! Perhaps customers might have mispronounced it (we wore name tags), but they didn’t try and just called me “Miss.”
My first marriage produced two children but ended after seven years. I was single for a few years and then married Ted. Of course, my children continued to be Lebowitz, but I was so happy to be rid of this difficult name when I happily dropped it to match my new husband’s.
Well, that didn’t work out! I thought going from a difficult three-syllable name to a one-syllable, five-letter name was a plus. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Almost NO ONE got it right. There was Goats (for those who remembered the rule of “when two vowels go walking the first does the talking”). The problem with this rule is that there are as many exceptions as the rule: hence Liebowitz. The rule would make it L[eye]bowitz!
There was Goh-Etz (for those who don’t know the rules and think every vowel is pronounced). But my personal favorite is the dyslexics, Gotez! Maybe they thought I looked Spanish.
Of course, when I told someone my name, they always wrote it “Gets.” This was really a bit surprising since there is a famous local candy named for their family, Goetze’s. Yes, there’s an E at the end, but no one ever called the candy “Get-zee!” (or Goat-zee, or Got-zee). I often wonder if there’s something about seeing a Z that just throws people off.
Interestingly, that marriage also lasted seven years. Perhaps there’s something to the “Seven Year Itch” thing. After divorcing my second husband, I decided I either didn’t know how to choose the right partner or I just didn’t know how to stay married. There were a few men I might have considered, but they had really hard names like Cyrtkonzky and Kalyanzaraman. I couldn’t go down that road again! I was single for the next 11 years.
Over those 11 years, I dated a lot of men, none of whom I knew I would ever want to marry. They were fun, or interesting or kind to my children. However, I never considered marrying any of them because I didn’t trust myself to choose and/or keep Mr. Right. And then I met Stuart.
He turned out to be my Mr. Wonderful,* and Miller has to be the best name ever! Thank goodness! I don’t need to spell it out or pronounce it for anyone. Maybe there are more beer drinkers (Miller’s) than candy eaters (Goetze’s), but I doubt it. It’s just a common, easy name like Jones or Smith: not difficult to read or hard to spell. Nobody ever makes mincemeat out of it!
When my son Geoffrey was born, I chose to use the Old English spelling of his name because it was very classy and I loved Geoffrey Chaucer. But around middle school, Geoffrey decided he hated the spelling of his name and asked me why I spelled it in such a stupid way. I explained it to him, but this was his lament.
“Mom! That’s ridiculous,” he complained. “People call me Godfrey, Goofrey, Gofree, Geeoffrey.”
“But Geoff,” I said. “Geoffrey is the name of my favorite poet.”
“I don’t care about that. I don’t like people making fun of me!”
Later when he was in high school, where perhaps the kids had already learned about Geoffrey Chaucer, they started to pick on his last name, “Eagle Lips and Hebrew Zits.”
For years Geoffrey worked for my dad, and then my brothers who took over the business of “Berman’s Automotive.” He used the name Berman at work, since he was family and it gave more credence to his automotive knowledge. He thought about legally changing his name to Berman, which sounded reasonable since his own father legally changed his name from “Lebowitz” to “Lane.” (I guess when he moved to California, he wanted a more “hip” name.)
When Geoff became engaged to Jillian, he asked her if she preferred Lebowitz or Berman. She laughed and said, “What do you think?” Berman it was. I love that my son and my grandchildren carry my maiden-name.
When my daughter was a teen, she hated the name “Lebowitz” because, in her words, “It was hard, mispronounced and, to be honest, in 1980 living in Reisterstown, it wasn’t cool to be Jewish.” She called herself “Laura Lebo.” When she married, she took her husband’s name, which is Horstkamp (pronounced horse-camp. I have a feeling many people pronounce that T (HorseTkamp).
Now she goes by Laura F. Horstkamp. However, on Facebook, she still uses Laura Lebo Horstkamp so friends from her past can find her. In addition, in her Beachbody and coaching life, she uses Coach Laura. She says “Horstkamp is hard. People are scared of the K just like they are of the Z.” What goes around, comes around.
What’s in a name? Whatever you want!
*If you’re interested, you can read my story “Meeting the Professor-It’s Beshert” on our site.
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