Call me Moses Goldstein. You won’t be wrong. Say it and I’ll turn around, look back at you out of the corner of my eye, smile a bit and raise an eyebrow at you coyly, because I’m a coy guy, and—of course—that is my name.
My Hebrew name is Moshe, which is not Hebrew for Jared. But it is roughly Hebrew for Milton, which was my great-grandfather’s name, so Moshe was his Hebrew name. I never knew much about the man, but I was told that he watched his weight. He bought half-gallons of low-fat ice cream from the supermarket, and with careful measure, he would divide that half-gallon into thirds. So with that knowledge, I was awarded his name and set off into the world in his memory, fueled by the message of my mother and grandmother to live it well, do him right, make him proud.
Not that I gave much thought to my Hebrew name. I only ever used it twice a week, at Hebrew school, until age ten when I switched from an Orthodox temple to one that demanded a lower time commitment. And even then, it was less of a true second identity than a hat I’d sometimes wear, and I’d tell people my Hebrew name was Moshe in the same way I’d say “watch me flip my eyelids inside-out” or “my spirit animal is a warthog.”
Of course, like memories of my great-grandfather, the “Moshe” has all but vanished from my name. It dissolved from “Milton” to the “Michael” which hides between my two names today. It was Americanized with attendance lists in mind; my mother—a quite considerate and very progressive lady—wished me a wholly uncomplicated childhood, opting for a less dated middle name to save me from roll-call blush. It is a name that neither adds nor detracts. It sits there like boiled potatoes on a plate: palatable, yet flavorless—something for me to poke at with a fork and push around out of politeness to the woman who gave it to me.
The name Goldstein dissolved too. World War II rolled around and it fizzled up, like a tablet of Alka-Seltzer dropped into water. My grandfather, who looked Goyish enough, worked intelligence in the military, but as Paul Goldstein he was the brunt of one too many jokes. So he took Anti-Semitism by the horns, changed his last name to a Christmas tree draping, and as fate would have it, fathered two atheist children.
As for my real name, well, it’s rather low-concept. My mother had had the name Adam in reserve for her first son (for a while she thought my older sister was going to be a boy, and she called her Adam until she learned that the thing kicking her uterus was a girl), and then, as she was gearing up to name the next one Adam, she had her second pre-natal surprise. Crowding the development of her long-anticipated son was some other dude, freeloading off her food and stretching her once-flat stomach to comical proportions. For a while the doctors called me “Baby B.” Adam was “Baby A,” and naturally, I was the thing that came after A.
She eventually settled on Jared because there was a boy in her high school named Jared. My name means “he descends,” because biblically speaking, Jared is the great-great-great grandson of Adam. But that has nothing to do with my name. In high school she sat behind a Jared in some class, and she remembered that he had a nice back. Who’s to say that isn’t enough? Sometimes she compliments my back.