Ihave this odd thing about my name: I like it just the way it is. No creative reconfigurations, no umlauts, no hyphens. I’m even happy to bargain on pronunciation – just as long as it is spelled correctly. But since I’ve spent the better part of my life in countries where my name isn’t native, this modest desire of mine seems to be wishful thinking at times.
In England, for instance: from the brief and eventful period when I was a full-time trade union representative, there was my colleague who was conversant with multiculturalism and equal rights for all and stuff like that, but who could never quite manage to get my surname right. “It’s Ajay, innit? You Indians don’t spell it with an ‘I,’ do you?” Well, it isn’t “Ajay, innit,” and – multicultural world or not – I think the physical evidence ought to be enough to convince that I’m not from the subcontinent.
Anyway, in these parts I rarely get people fumbling over the spelling of my surname – mercifully, it is quite straightforward in Hebrew. I do have a problem with wrong numbers, however. For some reason, I get loads of misdirected calls. Also, for some reason, most of them seem to be from people who seem unable to accept that I am who I am.
For example: Them: ‘Allo, Yuval? (Or Micky, or Motti...) Me: (In Hebrew). No, this is Akin.
Them: No, this is Yuval’s number. (Long pause). What kind of name is Akin, anyway? Me: Mine. And clearly, you have made a mistake.
Click. They’ve hung up on me. Charming. An apology wouldn’t be out of order, y’know.
IT ISN’T always like this, I must admit. Last week, I had the most surprising experience.
Him: Avi? Me: Lo, ta’ut (No, you’re mistaken).
I admit it’s rude, but I believe in getting my retaliation in first. So I’m about to hang up on He-Who- Demands-Avi but something makes me pause.
Him: You’re Maya’s husband? Maya L? And this is 050-XXX-XXXX? Me: As a matter of fact I am, and yes it is.
Him: But you’re not Avi? [He’s switched to English now, by the way.] Me: No, I’m Akin.
There is genuine bewilderment in his voice. I’m a little puzzled too. But it turns out there’s a simple explanation. He got the number from Directory Assistance. They had said “Akin and Maya L”, but he’d assumed they’d made a mistake.
No probs. I’m still ready to hang up, but my newfound friend wants to chat. “So where is the name Akin from? And your accent... British, perhaps?” “Yes,” I reply, but I’m not sure what this has to do with anything. But he’s still chatting away, as if we’re best friends from the army or something.
“So how are you managing in Israel? It’s not an easy country to live in, is it?” He doesn’t actually apologize for calling me “Avi”; he goes several steps further. He eventually rings off, but only after wishing me and my wife well.
I was so touched by his good wishes, I’m thinking of changing my name to Avi.
I guess it’s a bit rich of me to complain about people making a mess of my name. I’ve done far worse myself. Take the other week, for instance. Wandering through the shopping mall in Herzliya Pituah, I’m seized by the urge to buy Mrs. Goy a dress. (OK, lets be honest: I’m seized by remorse for my multiple failings as a husband and father. But this is neither the time nor the place for a discussion about that.) At some point during the to-ing and fro-ing over my choice of dress, I mention my wife’s name. As the shop assistant wraps the dress and scans my credit card – do women’s clothes really cost that much, by the way? – we fall into casual conversation.
“Your wife’s name is Maya?” she says. “What a beautiful name.”
“I know, that’s why I married her,” I reply. We both laugh.
“Actually,” I continue, “I’m not sure I would have married her if her name had been Rivka or something ugly like that.”
I’ll leave it to you to imagine my humiliation and embarrassment. Actually no, I’ll add a little more in my master class on “How to Humiliate Oneself and Embarrass Others.” An awkward silence falls between Rivka and myself, and I just have to say something to ease the discomfort.
“Well, I guess I won’t be marrying you now...” I blurt out.
Rivka is kind enough to let me know that it is actually her middle name. I do hope that makes her feel better, because it didn’t do much for me.
EDMOND IS a pretty odd name for an Israeli, don’t you think? That said, it does show just how much attention I pay to the Israeli political and judicial landscape, given that I’d never heard of Edmond Levy, retired justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, until last week. OK, so I’m not alone in this, and I didn’t live here during the evacuation from Gaza, but still...
Anyway, everyone knows Justice Edmond Levy’s name now, thanks to the so-called Outposts Report. There’s nothing sensible I can add to a discussion about the report. If nothing else, the one thing I have retained from my legal training is that there’s no point in commenting about anything until one has read the fine print. And with said fine print being in Hebrew, and my Hebrew being what it is...
Still, a rose by any other name will smell as sweet, etc, etc. The situation in the West Bank – or Judea and Samaria, if that’s the name one prefers – is untenable.
It might be that the name used to describe this situation for the last 40-odd years is no longer deemed to be suitable or accurate or appropriate.
So be it. But changing what one calls it won’t change the circumstances on the ground.
It’s not always the name by which you call something that matters, after all.