the story of a name

You might be wondering, what’s going on with my name?? To be clear, my name as I understand it now is Erica Shoshana Rivers. I have not changed it legally yet, but likely will at some point. Currently, I have some people in my life who call me Erica and some people who call me Shoshana.

I have deep respect for my parents who chose the gender progressive route of giving me the hyphenated last name Erica Seltzer-Schultz. For many years, it felt good to honor both my Seltzer and Schultz lineages in that way. At the same time, the name, given its length, tended to pose some problems as I navigated the world. Nothing really big, just a series of minor annoyances. There was a sense among both me and my parents that I might not keep it forever.

Last year, while participating in a women’s circle, we had the option of choosing a different name for people to call us by. I decided to choose my Hebrew name Shoshana which was also given to me by my parents at my naming ceremony shortly after I was born. Shoshana translates as lily or rose. I loved the sound of it and the way I felt when people used it to refer to me.

I would admit that I am more drawn to the name due to its sound and energy over the fact that it’s my Hebrew name, but I do have a felt sense of it feeling good to acknowledge my Jewish identity. My recent ancestors would never have considered naming their children or taking a name that was so overtly Jewish.

Their focus was assimilating into American culture and finding ways to survive and thrive. To take the name now in our current political climate feels both powerful and a bit scary. I’m still developing an understanding of what it means to me. Having a name that combines both English and Hebrew feels complicated to me due to the imperialism that I associate with both of those languages. And yet it doesn’t feel correct for me to have a name in another language.

As I toyed with asking people to call me Shoshana, I came back around to the issue of the last name. “Shoshana Seltzer-Schultz” simply was not going to work…perhaps it was time to consider finding a new last name. One late night last summer while I was journaling, the name Shoshana Rivers came to me and I immediately fell in love with it. I have a fierce love for water––I often feel most myself and most alive when I’m in or around it. At the time, I was living two blocks from Minnehaha creek and visiting it mornings and evenings most days. Whenever I could, I was canoeing on the Mississippi and kayaking and swimming in the St. Croix. This summer, I live farther from water, but still try to spend time with it as many days as I can.

My recent ancestors have had the privilege of living by water: the Seltzers on the Mississippi and St. Croix and the Schultzes on the Potomac River and Atlantic Ocean. And so, while the name Rivers came more organically then careful calculation, I like how it still honors my lineage.

At present time, I am introducing myself to new people as Shoshana but I’m still comfortable with people calling me Erica. Shoshana has a different feel to it that makes me happy when I hear it, but I still genuinely like the name Erica. At some point this might change and I might ask that most people in my life call me Shoshana.

It feels vulnerable for me to change my name, but as I step more fully into my life’s work and launch a new website (stay tuned!), it feels marvelous to have a name that feels so fully me. Thanks for reading and helping to support this time of transition.

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