Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cellar Door: Names

My real name is Shoshanah. There goes my secret identity.

My name was never really an issue for me. I rather liked it, until I worked at Sears and was required to wear a name tag.

I worked in the hardware department, and it wasn’t exactly high society that came to see me. I was used to people learning my name and commenting, “That’s unique” or “That’s pretty” or, my favorite, “Where’d you get that name?” My mother gave it to me. The implication, however, was that I had changed my name in order to be unique or different. Lots of people in my life have asked me if I “made up” my name. That was mostly just comical and I didn’t worry.

Something happened, though, when I started working at Sears in Pueblo, Colorado. Almost every single day, someone would say,

“Shoshanah. Hm. Is that an Indian name?”

It seems like a harmless enough question. It’s not an Indian name. It’s a Hebrew name. That’s what I told people. But some people didn’t believe me. They would say,

“Are you sure? It sounds like an Indian name.” And then I would say,

“No, no. You’re thinking of the Shoshone tribe. Shoshanah is a Hebrew name.” Sometimes, they would still look at me, incredulously. These people did not know the definition of the word, “Hebrew.” “It’s Jewish.” I would say. “My mom is Jewish.” If they didn’t know what Jewish was, God help them.

It’s not the worst conversation you can have, day after day, but just having the same conversation, day after day like that, it can make you want to kill someone. Totally unreasonably, I know. But nevertheless.

The thing that really got to me was that some people actually thought that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Sometimes, it was a little bit fun, though. I was training a new guy one day, and I told him that, before the day was through, someone would say to me,

“Shoshanah. Hm. Is that an Indian name?”

When it happened, he was really happy. We had an inside joke.

Mostly, though, it was incredibly annoying. I realized that people in this world starve to death and I shouldn’t want to kill people for thinking Shoshanah is an Indian (well, Native American) name, but I just couldn’t help it. I just wanted to punch them all in the face.

It got really bad. After a while, I stopped wearing my name tag, and even my Sears smock. I went to work incognito and sort of lurked. It was clear my days were numbered.

Now, I live in the Midwest, and only one person here has asked me if Shoshanah is an Indian name. I no longer felt the urge to punch that person in the face. A few people have said, however, that they thought I was Black before they met me in person. I’m White. And I’m not even really Jewish.


  1. I told John I was in the process of reading about your name. Of course you can guess what he said.
    "Is it an Indian name?"
    I feel safe relating this. Unless you have special powers, I think it unlikely that you can punch someone in the face if you're in Wisconsin and they're in Virginia.

  2. My mom thought you were black before she met you.

  3. Remember when we used to say that you were related to Spike Lee?

  4. Gina- That's really funny, too.

    Jen- Yes. Clearly not related to Spike Lee. It was all wishful thinking. I like his movies a lot.

  5. You need to see Inglourious Basterds...

    My name is Shoshanna Dreyfus and THIS is the face... of Jewish vengeance!