If you look closely at the gold heart-shaped locket that I never take off, you’ll see the letters T a n a r engraved in teeny-tiny cursive font. That’s not my name.
The jeweler must have simply forgotten one of the humps of the ‘m,’ forever branding me “Tanar” instead of my actual given name, Tamar. The engraving is so small that the jeweler probably figured they could get away with it—and they did. Though I’ve been wearing the necklace consistently since I was at least 12, I only discovered this hiccup two or three years ago. You’d think this might be something I’d want to fix, but the lettering is so tiny and it was a good fun fact for awkward frosh week ice-breakers with my zee group.
Just above the gold heart-shaped locket with the name “Tanar” engraved on it, you’ll see another gold necklace with my name (actually Tamar this time) in Hebrew characters. It’s just three letters, read from right to left: Tav, Mem, Resh.
My name is an indicator and reminder of my Jewish heritage. Tamar literally means “date” in Hebrew — the palm-tree-fruit kind, not the romantic kind, though in the third grade when we learned different kinds of fruit in Hebrew class my peers inevitably joked: “Do you want to go on a Tamar with me?”
My parents chose my name because palm trees are my mother’s favorite kind of tree (they grow in her two favorite places—Israel and Southern California). And there’s a psalm recited every Sabbath that says “Tzadik K’Tamar Yifrach,” which means “the righteous shall flourish like the palm,” which serves as a poetic reminder to be an upstanding person.
Tamar also happens to be a character in the Bible known for being a prostitute — undoubtedly a solid legacy I have inherited. When I learned this, I was skeptical of my namesake (why would my parents want me to be associated with a supposed biblical harlot?), but upon deeper study of the text, I realized that Tamar is more than a whore. In fact, she’s a woman who asserts the rights that are denied to her (which she accomplishes by parading as a prostitute).
Her story, to the modern reader, is pretty off-putting. Tamar marries Judah’s firstborn Er, who is then smote by God for being wicked. Judah then tells Tamar to go live as a widow until his youngest son is old enough—she obeys and goes her own way. But years later, when Judah still has not given her his youngest son, Tamar hears that Judah will be passing through a nearby town. Naturally, she decides to disguise herself as a prostitute so that he will sleep with her and finally give her the child she deserves. Her plan works—he sleeps with her and she gets pregnant with twins.
Putting aside the incestuous overtones, her story is crafty, tragic, and promiscuous. I wouldn’t necessarily characterize myself in those ways, but she knows what she wants and how to get it, which is a trait I do value in myself. It’s a Tamar thing, I guess.
My middle name is Stella, a name I used to think was super old-fashioned but have come to love. It comes from the Latin word for star. I was named after my great-grandmother Stella Phillips Holman, a kindergarten teacher who raised my Nana as a single mother. She had green eyes and reddish blonde hair, which I did not inherit. She also had great style, which I did inherit. But the most critical tie to my great-grandmother lies in the meaning of our shared name: when I told my Nana I was writing a piece about my name, she emailed me “YOUR MIDDLE NAME IS AFTER HER…MEANING STAR..AND YOU DEFINITELY ARE OUR STAR..LOVE NANA.”
I share my last name with the famous actor Bruce, the retired 49ers football player Patrick, and “Diff’rent Strokes” character Jackson. Somehow people always think themselves so original when they exclaim “Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout Willis?!” upon meeting me. Pro-tip: you’re not the first (and you’re probably not the last).
Recently, my friend Julia told me she doesn’t really feel like a Julia; her name feels detached from her personal conception of herself. It’s weird to think that your most basic unit of identification could feel so disconnected from your actual identity. I considered this for a moment, assessing whether I felt the same about mine. I decided that I do feel like a Tamar — not the prostitute kind, the date tree kind, or even the Tanar kind — but my own personal version of the name.