What’s in a Name?

Feb 5, 2024

A few years back I was browsing the Entertainment Section of the New York Times.  I wasn’t looking for anything specific probably because I’m such a neophyte.  I didn’t grow up in a house that played any kind music and that Music Appreciation Class in College bored me to death. I think I remember hearing Jewish holiday songs and an occasional Kate Smith or Ethel Merman TV show where they belted out “God Bless America” or “Everything Is Coming Up Roses”. I even remember Dinah Shore crooning the music for Chevrolet (“See the USA in your Chevrolet”).  And, I think I remember watching Liberace on the Ed Sullivan Show.  But, that was pretty much it.

But, back to the NY Times … my eye caught an article about Jeff Goldblum.  For some odd reason, and I do mean “odd”… I really like Jeff’s acting style.  I’m weird and quirky and he’s weird and quirky.  I guess you’d say he could easily be my brother from another mother doppelganger.  Except we don’t really look alike.  In any case, the article announced Jeff’s newest venture.  He was going to perform with his Jazz Group In the lounge at New York’s Carlyle Hotel.

Someone must have heard his group perform and decided that he would be a perfect fit for their upscale but ever so slightly quirky audience.  But, there was one problem;  The person who was charged with promoting the performance called Jeff and asked him what he called his group.  Jeff was a bit perplexed.  He never really thought about giving the group a name.  “But, how will we promote you without a name?. She asked.  He thought for a moment and said something like, “Oh, okay.  We’ll call ourselves “The Mildred Snitzler Orchestra ”.  That made me laugh .. big time.  Jeff said that Mildred was a friend of his mothers.  She lived to be 100.  Hey, why not name the group after her.  Everyone needs fifteen minutes of fame. And, so they continue to play great jazz as The Mildred Snitzler Orchestra.

It wasn’t a big leap for me to start the wheels churning in my mind. “Hey, do you remember Mom’s best friend from Forest Hills?  Nelda Zelenko.  I think she played canasta and seemed to show up at all of the holiday parties in our apartment.  I can’t recall if she was married, divorced, widowed or just one of those anomalies that crosses your life path every few centuries.

Nelda had a name that seemed to sound like an Iambic pentameter (For those who forgot the definition, here’s the latest from Oxford’s Dictionary;  “a line of verse with five metrical feet, each consisting of one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed) syllable”).  Well, okay it didn’t quite fit that definition but, the thought made me laugh long and hard.

And, Nelda’s name triggered another story about another name.  I had a friend who lived on Staten Island.  Like most people who found their way to our sweet country, his grandparents found their way to Ellis Island.  They didn’t speak a word of English.  But, soon they found themselves standing in front of a US Immigration Officer.  “Name?” he said.  “Chamoodiz”, the grandpa said. The Immigration Officer paused for just a moment and said, “Shapiro, step forward”.  It’s really amazing what ignorance can do to your identity.

And, then a few other unusual names were triggered from my memory.  There was Melvin Pozwolsky (a sweet spirited cherubic fellow in my high school class) and Siobhan Lubieniecka (who didn’t look anything like her name.  She was skinny as a rail with a sexy and infectious laugh).  She was an occasional overnighter at our college crash pad.  There was Moses Moses (we called him “Mo”) and Joe Josephs and Billy Crystal (you know him, right?).  And, Richard Riddlebarger (we called him, “Dicky”)

Then again, what’s in a name?