Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | March 7, 2010

What’s in a name?

If someone would have given me a dollar for each time that my name has been either mispronounced or misspelled over the years, suffice it to say that I wouldn’t have to toil away at a day job, and could instead be happily living out my life on my own private island somewhere. I’d have one of those trendy eco-friendly homes with the requisite outdoor shower and a wireless connection that reached every corner of the island, ensuring that I would be able to connect with the outside world whenever I’d choose to do so. I’d spend my days writing and trying to be green, though as we know, sometimes, it’s just not easy being green

But I digress. While obviously, there are far more outrageous and unusual names than mine, it’s still the only one that I have to deal with on a daily basis. That’s not to say that I don’t like my name. I’ve grown rather fond of it over the years, despite the difficulties that it brings. The constant need to correct nearly everyone the first time around… The teachers who could never get it right, including my seventh grade math teacher, who called me Lisa so frequently that I actually stopped answering her until she’d say Liza. The friends who spoke languages that don’t use a long “i” sound… Don’t even get me started on sheer variety of bastardizations I encounter nearly every day here in Israel, where I’ve seen it spelled in a plethora of different ways in both Hebrew and English, and corrections of mispronunciations are an everyday occurrence.

Of course, there are advantages as well. In most cases, when someone calls out “Liza”, it’s usually fairly safe to assume that they’re looking for me. The only exceptions would be a brief university stint when I had a floor-mate named Liza, and my fabulous cousin Liza who is, by the way, also a writer (she’s younger than I am, so please try to imagine how much fun it’s been for me to have the family nickname of “Big Liza”, to her “Little Liza”. And no, you may not call me Big Liza…). Needless to say, I’ve also never really found myself in one of those situations like the one that occurred during a year program in Israel after university, where we had five women named Rachel and I spent a good part of the year saying, “Rachel. No, not you…”. I must admit, though, that I do find it more than a little bizarre to have just discovered this morning that American actress Liza Weil has both the same middle name as me (Rebecca) and the same birthday, though she’s nine years younger than I am (and no, you still can’t call me Big Liza…). And, just in case you were wondering, I cannot sing like Liza Minnelli, whose “It’s Liza with a Z” is one of the recurring theme songs of my life.

Surprisingly, there are quite a few songs about women named Liza. The one that immediately comes to mind is “There’s a Hole in the Bucket”, the Harry Belafonte and Odetta version of which, was used many years ago by my best friend as a tool of torture during a drive from Springfield, MA to the Capital District region of NY. There’s a song called “Liza” by a group known as The Four Freshman, and the oddly spelled “Liezah” by The Coral. My all-time favorite, though, would have to be “Come Back Liza”, by Harry Belafonte. What can I say – the man is brilliantly talented, and truthfully, who doesn’t love a taste of Calypso from time to time?

So, what are the trials and tribulations surrounding your name? Do you have any songs?

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  1. Speaking as someone who has to introduce themself in this country as “Robin, like Robin Hood” I can definitely identify.

    At least once the movie came out they stopped pronouncing it as either Rabin (as in Yitzhak) or Reuven…

  2. Thanks so much for this post, Liza. Yes, I empathize completely! 🙂 And not only because of my long last name with “all the vowels.” As you noted, one letter in the first name is so easy to be messed with. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been transformed into “Diane”…! Ah well.

  3. I hate having a nursery rhyme name and I never tumble down a hill if I can can help it. Curiously, Jill is one of those names that occurs in fiction and as a stage name more than a bona fide real name. On the up side, it’s seldom mispronounced, and it doesn’t have a diminutive.

  4. Robin: I’m “Liza, like Liza Minnelli”, “no, not like Eliza Doolittle”, which is the other example that Israelis pull out of the air. It could be worse, I suppose…

    Diana: I can imagine! Whenever I get emails addressed to “Lisa”, the sender is automatically awarded one point against them, no matter what the email is about. If they can’t make the effort to spell my name correctly, I’m not going to be overly helpful. Maybe that’s kind of mean, but it’s a big sore point for me.

    Jill: Those hills can be a bitch, can’t they? 😉 I’ve known a few Jills in my time, and you’re one of four Facebook friends named Jill (though one of them now goes by Jillian). Did your Israeli colleagues have any trouble with it?

  5. Hmm… Liza Rebecca. It opens a wealth of possibilities I wouldn’t go into now, but might do later… I shall postpone cackling for later.

    As for me, and I don’t mean that STG character: nah, my name is so simple that only Israelis have succeeded to do some funny things with it…

  6. Please feel free to go into it now. I’d welcome the distraction! Cackling? 😛

    And as for your real name, I can only imagine what the Israelis have done to it. I’m guessing Americans and other native English speakers would have problems with it as well, no?

  7. As in “cackling darkly”. No, not now. Some other time.

    As for that other question: Americans and other English speakers normally have only a problem with writing the name down, always aiming for the English “I” in place of East European (Slavic?) “Y”.

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