As a little girl I would get upset when entering those kitschy shops that sold kids' essentials like Barbie balloons and teddy bears that claim to love you. It wasn't the exorbitant price tags that got me down. What made my heart sink were the revolving stands laden with key rings. Each plastic rectangle displayed a different name written in rainbow glitter. "Amy", "Belinda" and "Cathy" sparkled and winked out at me from inside their cute, transparent little homes. But where, oh where, was my name?
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Dani.
There, I said it. It's a Hebrew name (rhymes with "honey"), and growing up in South Africa, my name was always something of an oddity. So meeting someone new was often a mini-ordeal:
"Hi, I'm Dani."
"Oh, nice to meet you Danny/Dana/Donna/Dina."
Recently, I placed an ad in our community newspaper stating that I wanted to rent my car out for a few months. I received a call from a woman who sounded very interested and wanted to know all the details.
"By the way, what did you say your name was, dear?" she asked.
"Interesting," she said, in a voice that sounded more amused than interested. "So, how is that spelled? B-U-N..."
At that point I realized the poor woman, desperately trying to remain poker-voiced, thought that my name was "Bunny." Well, I suppose I do have a quietish nature and a love of the outdoors, but this was getting ridiculous!
We had a competition to see whose name contained the most syllables.
My full name -- even less comprehensible to the average ear -- is Daniella. In the second grade, our stern German teacher announced that we would now be having a competition to see whose name contained the most syllables. (Let's ignore for the moment the unfairness of this idea -- Jane, Greg and Tom never stood a chance, no matter how hungry they were for victory.)
Anyway, there I was thinking my moment of glory had finally arrived. For once, my unwieldy name would prove to be an asset. I smiled smugly to myself, and confidently raised my hand. I would clearly be the out-right winner.
"My name contains four syllables: Da-ni-el-la!"
"No, it doesn't," she retorted, irritated. "It only has three syllables: Dan-yel-la. See?"
I ended up having to tie for first place with Joshua.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
"What is she harping on about?" I hear you asking. And you are partially correct -- the fact that some people can't pronounce "Dani" is hardly that scarring to warrant my baggage being aired on an international website. Indeed, I pray that the mispronunciation of my name is the worst experience I ever need encounter!
But, on the other hand, Judaism places much emphasis on the importance of names. One's name is not a mere external label. Rather, it is a description of one's soul. When a baby is born, Jewish parents are therefore careful to choose a suitable name for the child.
It is therefore not surprising that someone whose name is constantly mispronounced, or changed completely, might feel uncomfortable. It's as if the other person is misinterpreting the deepest part of one's being.
I am the "John Smith" of Israel!
A few months ago I came to Israel to study Judaism (hence the need to rent out my car). And as I write this from Jerusalem, I feel overwhelmed by the joy of being in this wonderful country that I can call my own. Here, cab drivers offer advice on major life decisions, adults hold the hands of children they've never met and help them across the road, and my gosh, is this really cottage cheese or is it a spoonful of heaven?!
But, best of all, everyone here understands my name, and says it perfectly first time! I am the "John Smith" of this country!
Last week, my roommate came home with a new recipe book. I paged through it, my eyes lapping up every delectable picture. But my favorite part was in the "Table Decorations" section. As I leafed through the pages, I came across a sight even sweeter than marshmallow truffles. I gasped. There it was, filling the entire, glossy page: a photo of a beautiful flower arrangement whose vibrant, colorful petals spelled out one word: DANI.
I felt like God was smiling at me through the petal-letters, and saying, "Welcome home! You are safe here. You can be everything you are now."
I'm going to ask my friend's permission to neatly cut that picture out of the book… and turn it into a key ring!