Name calling

Name calling

To my dear readers: Please understand that I, like you, am heartbroken and desperately worried at this horrific moment in Jewish history. May peace shine again on am Yisrael.

Like most of us, my friend Ruth has several titles. To her children, now middle-aged, she’s Mom. Bernie, her forever husband, just calls her Ruth. It’s the grandchildren who got creative. For various reasons, mostly of mispronunciation when they were babies, she’s known as Mak to some and Gaygay to others. It would defy a doctorate in linguistics to exactly discern where these derivatives came from, but they are what they are and they’ve stuck around already into the next generation. There are babies and toddlers walking around New Jersey today using Mak or Gaygay to address their great-grandmother.

This is cute, and it’s also helpful when the kidnapping scam phone calls occur. You know those scams. A youthful voice, in distress, calls on your phone, “Grandma, please help me.” He tells you that he’s your grandson (yes, usually a male) and he’s pleading for money for bail, or an emergency hospitalization, or he needs bribes to escape an Iranian prison, or some other very urgent matter. He begs you for the money and not to tell his parents, who will worry incessantly.

But your grandson would never call you Grandma. He would call you Mak or Gaygay as he always does. The Grandma scam is foiled!

I’ve received calls like that twice, and I can honestly tell you that one of them sounded just like one of my grandsons. But none of my grandchildren call me Grandma, and neither do my great-grandchildren. I feel pretty protected, from that scam at least.

Now I’m going to give you information with the fervent hope that none of those smart but very evil scammers are my readers. I’m going to give you the secrets of my own numerous names!

I was born and named Rosanne (Shoshana b’Ivrit) because I was named for my grandmother Rifka, but Mom wanted something more American so she chose Rose. Then she worried that I’d be called Rosie (which I was anyway) so she tagged Anne onto the Rose, giving me a name that forever identified me as a likely non-Jew, or at least a Jew with questionable credentials. While Rosanne is not as overtly non-Jewish as, say, Christina or Angelica, Mom certainly lived to regret the name choice. But not as much as I did. And Dad spent his life calling me the dreaded Rosie anyway. Somehow, I stayed within the fold in spite of my name because, after all, a rose is a rose is a rose and a Jew is a Jew is a Jew.

But I’ve been called many different names through the years.

As a kid I was called Rosie, Rosebud, Roxanne, Roz, and just about anything that started with an R. Teachers always got my name wrong, and it often took a while for a new acquaintance to get it right. I got used to it, somewhat, although you must be able to figure out that since I’m still complaining 84 years later, if I had been consulted, that would not have been my choice of name.

I met my husband in 1957 and he became fond of a new nickname for me. He called me Ro. I liked him a lot and I liked that short, succinct new name a lot as well. It wasn’t especially Jewish, but it was what I considered to be pareve secular. It was easy to pronounce. It was a match! So we got married and I became Ro to everyone, except our eventual children.

My kids started to grow up as traditionalists. We lived in suburban Clark, a town with a mixed population of Jews and every other kind of other. It was fine and normal and I was called Mommy and my husband, of course, was Daddy. My new friends mostly called me Ro.

But then, we flew off to a year-long gig in Jerusalem. Those four All-American kids started gan (nursery school) and elementary school, and they also started, faster than their parents, to speak fluent, unaccented Hebrew. Out of the blue they started calling us Ima and Abba. Honestly, we never told them to transition to those titles, but it seemed natural and it was okay. To this day, we are still called Ima and Abba, and when they converse with each other, that’s how they refer to us. It’s kind of nice actually! And, in addition, their own kids call them Ima and Abba, even the already adult married ones with children of their own.

We all know that names are important identifying features. There’s so much to be learned from just hearing a person’s name, including even the generation to which they were born and their religion or nationality. Just think of Morris or Bessie! Those are really old fashioned names and almost always Jewish. Uncle Morris. Aunt Bessie. We can all think of many examples of those. They’re perfectly nice names, better than Rosanne for sure, but they are somewhat dated. That doesn’t mean that there won’t soon be new Jewish babies named Morris or Bessie. We all know that what goes around comes around.

But, the utmost originality often comes from little children themselves and what they call their grandparents. It’s frequently not the choice of the grandparents but the speech learning patterns of the babies. One thing for sure, those baby names do stick. You may have a preference for what you’ll be called, but you can be overruled by a toddler. Therefore you’ve got Ruth being called Mak and Gaygay! Those are the names used by her grandchildren, young adults in their 30s, already parents themselves. And, yes, those newest newcomers, the great-grandchildren, use those same sobriquets.

Six years ago we became great-grandparents. I didn’t have to wonder very long what we would be called. My husband became Sabba Raba, and that was and is fine. But I, I remain Ro, to each and every one of them. I am Ro to all of our grandchildren and to the three great-grandchildren. Just plain old Ro.

Thus it was, from generation to generation, my husband called me Ro. Then my first son-in-law followed suit. Then the others, totaling three sons-in-law and finally a treasured daughter-in-law. Ro to all. So when their children were born, it was an easy transition.

These days we are happily awaiting new additions, and new editions, to our family. It doesn’t need to be said that we pray for their safe arrivals and healthy lives, together with their parents, grandparents, and siblings. So far we’ve had a run of boys. Something tells me that we’ll add some girls in this coming round. I haven’t a clue as to what they’ll be named, but I’m betting heavily on Hebrew names. The only thing I’m pretty sure of is what they’ll call me. I’ll be known as Ro!

You can contact me at

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!

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