Mayim Bialik Talks to Name Candy: Our Naming Process Starts With the Initials
Mayim Bialik won our hearts as the title character of TV's Blossom in the 1990s. Now you can catch her on the Emmy-nominated CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
NameCandy.com caught up with Mayim over e-mail as she was getting ready for the Bellies to Babies Benefit this weekend in support of the Atlanta Birth Center. Read on to find out the stories behind her children's names, what she calls her kids at home (Floopy?), her take on Natalie Portman's baby name, and what the name Blossom means to her.
NC: What are your children's names, and how did you choose them?
1. English Name: Miles Roosevelt. Hebrew Name: Meir Rosh.
2. English name: Fredrick Heschel. Hebrew Name: Ephraim Hirsch.
In my family, we choose English names with the same first letter as the first Hebrew letter. My husband converted to Judaism before we got married, and his family does not have these kinds of traditions necessarily set in stone (lol that's his last name).
Our first son is Meir Rosh, named for my father's father of blessed memory. His Hebrew name was Meir (pronounced like Oscar Meyer hot dogs), with no middle name. His English name was Michael, which is the same as my husband's name. Jews don't tend to do "juniors,” so we chose another M name. My husband and I love Miles Davis. I wanted to name him Morrie in English but my husband vetoed that.
We chose a middle name in English first: Roosevelt, since my grandpa had no middle name. My husband's middle name is Franklin so he liked honoring his family by also doing a political "FDR" name. For the Hebrew middle name, we chose Rosh since our son was born right after Rosh Hashanah, and Rosh is a name of one of the sons of Benjamin in the Torah. Coincidentally, my father's Hebrew name is Benjamin, so this was a nod to that too!
NC: And your other son, Fred?
Our second son is named for my mother's father, Ephraim Hirsch, of blessed memory. His English name they gave him at Ellis Island was Frank, and since my husband’s middle name is Franklin, that felt like another "junior" issue, so we picked my favorite name ever: Frederick. We wanted to stay with the "F" sound. The name Ephraim actually starts with a silent letter (Aleph-Natalie Portmans’s son’s name), but Ellis Island decided to hear the "F" sound as how to name my grandpa so we stuck with that.
His middle name, Hirsch (which means deer in Yiddish) became Heschel in English, for Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the civil rights rabbi who marched on Selma with MLK, Jr and was someone my husband and I studied in college. This was a nod to our journey of learning as college students with the rabbi who married us who taught us about Rabbi Heschel.
All Hebrew documents like bar mitzvah certificates and marriage contracts use Hebrew names. And any time our boys are called to the Torah for an honor in temple, it will be by their Hebrew names.For me, the Hebrew name holds the aspect of the person's soul and you are honoring your ancestor and wishing the traits on your child with that name. Even negative traits; I wish my child can overcome them and bring honor to the name. Even if you don't "like" the letter you got!
NC: Which name goes on the birth certificate?
Mayim Bialik: The birth certificate is a civil document, so it is the English name. HOWEVER we do not name for eight days. So for eight days, the baby hovers in a land of no-nameness, which is very sweet and very precious.
We waited 8 days until their Jewish naming and bris to announce the names to anyone. We even did not tell the name to the county! So we had to go downtown after we named our boys to name them officially. For Miles, at the hospital he was "Baby Boy Bialik" until we changed it downtown. I know some people tell the hospital and don't tell the family but we truly wanted the mystical aspect of eight days of no earthly name, just a little soul waiting to receive a name.
NC: What do you especially love about each name you chose?
Mayim Bialik: I think of my grandfathers every time I hear their names. I really do. I wish for them to be all that those men were and more, and to honor the name by bringing out aspects of their souls that they maybe couldn't in their lifetime. Even when I think of their English names, it's tied up in the Hebrew.
In English, people love the name Fred so much, and I do too. I love that people get such a kick out of a small plump toddler named Fred! And Miles is a bit popular in some circles, but the fact that people think of Miles Davis makes the name soooo cool!
NC: Were there any tough choices, or names it was hard to part with?
Mayim Bialik: I really liked Morrie. I like old man and old lady names. If we had had a girl, we would have chosen Sadie (for my grandmother). I love retro names!
NC: What's your take on nicknames? Do your kids go by nicknames?
Mayim Bialik: We use a lot of nicknames. Miles used to call himself "My-o" before he could pronounce his "L"s, so we call him that. And my husband called him Peanut in a Pouch, since he was always in a sling as a baby. Miles was born on 10/10 at 10pm and my father called him "Ten Ten" for the 8 days before we named him. We liked that a lot. I call him "Boo" now, and Fred is Fritz, Freddie, Floopy, and Fanoonoo. It's ridiculous, I know. There are Hebrew and Yiddish terms of endearment that also get thrown around sometimes. It's a nickname party in our house.
NC: Since you mentioned her, what’s your take on Natalie Portman’s name, Aleph? Is this a modern Jewish naming strategy, to honor ancestors using a contemporary version or an initial?
Mayim Bialik: Yes, it is more common to name a 'modern' version, or as I said in my family, with the same initial. As for Aleph... it's a letter, it's not a name, so I think it’s a very quirky choice. Aleph is the first letter of the alphabet and it is a very powerful mystical letter. It is silent. (Maybe she hopes for a quiet baby!?) It is a beautiful letter that actually represents G-d's name in its origins. It's a powerful word, but again, it's not a name! Just like Mayim is not a name!
NC: Let’s talk about your name. What does it mean? Do you like it?
Mayim Bialik: My name is not even a name; it's a plural male noun ("water" in Hebrew). In Hebrew, words are gendered, like in Spanish, or Italian for example. So water is male, and it only occurs (as water does) in large amounts, i./e. in plural form! My name rhymes with chaim. I was named for my great grandmother Maryam (that's like Miriam), and it was her nickname since her grandkids had trouble pronouncing her name. They shortened it to 2 syllables "ma" and "yam"..." which sounds like Mayim! It does mean water, but my family spoke Yiddish, not Hebrew. My parents were the ones to be creative and funky and name me her nickname which of course they knew means water!
I love my name. I love the mystical aspects of my name. It symbolizes the number 40 (40 years in the desert, 40 days on the mountain, all old testament stuff!), and I love my "element." It is very interesting, people's reactions to it, and I like that it identifies me as Jewish, because I am proud of my religion and heritage and I love that my name reflects that!
NC: We've read that your character Blossom was named for Blossom Dearie. How did you feel about the name Blossom at the time? How do you feel about the name Blossom now? What about the name of Blossom's friend, Six?
Mayim Bialik: I loved that Blossom was named for a jazz singer, but that the name was light and positive and evoked growth (blooming!). I so strongly associate it with "me" though, so now I don't really think I like it so much! Six is a really cool name and that joke which [Blossom writer] Don Reo wrote about it ("My father said that's how many beers it took" is the joke describing her name!) makes it even funnier.
If you're in Atlanta, you can see Mayim this weekend at the Bellies to Babies fundraising event; click here to order tickets. You can also read Mayim's entertaining blog at kveller.com. Her book, Beyond the Sling, comes out from Simon and Schuster in March 2012.
If you grew up watching Blossom, did you love the names on the show? Does your family have any special traditions in terms of naming or namesakes?