Some readers of this space may have heard that my son was being called Fritz for awhile there, and may be surprised to see that he wound up with a name a lot more—well, actually, less intriguing, and may be wondering why.
First, some background. Fritz Louis Jacob Wertheimer was born in Munich in 1912. A German, he was given an appropriately German name. (Actual conversation earlier this week: Amy: “If your great-grandma knew the names Jacob and Louie, why did she go and name your grandfather Fritz?” Me: “Have you considered that in Munich in 1912 Fritz was the hot name of its day?”) So much so that the one baby name book I read, which gave paragraph-long perspectives on interesting names, said of the name Fritz, in full, “Still firmly in its lederhosen.”
But poking fun of the name shortchanges the man. Fritz emigrated to the United States in 1936 on the cusp of World War II. Details on how much he brought with him are vague—two trunks of clothes; $200; some such—but he made his way first to northeastern Massachusetts, where he lived outside Cape Ann for a time, and where, 70 years later, his sons and grandsons (and soon, his great-grandson) still spend a long weekend every summer.
Fritz ultimately moved to New Jersey, met my grandmother, founded a construction company that my uncle and cousin still run, raised two sons who produced four grandsons, lived through three or four heart attacks, and willed himself to be the picture of health at my bar mitzvah in 1986 before dying 10 months later.
So it’s not farfetched to say that Fritz deserved the honor of my son’s name in some fashion. And indeed, Nathan’s Hebrew name, which is on a religious level equally important, is Peretz, the same as Fritz’s. But one doesn’t use one’s Hebrew name much in 21st-century America, so American Jews typically carry initials forward; for example, my middle name (Ian) is after my other grandfather (Irving).
But—and let’s be honest here—it’s nigh impossible to find a name that is
Jewish (or secular) in origin;
starting with an F;
and not horrendous when paired with “Wertheimer.”
This is a 30-year-old fact, as evidenced by my late grandmother, Frieda, whose honorarium by my parents is my brother’s name… of Jeffrey. No offense to those reading this who have F names, but pretend your last name is Wertheimer, you’re newly born in 2008, and your parents could have named you, what? Fred? Frank? Felix? Seriously: Felix Wertheimer?
So we decided to bump Fritz to the middle name, and honor Amy’s late grandmother Nellie, whom Amy adored, with the first name. That was pretty easy. Nathan is a fine name indeed, strong and moderately popular and with all the right connotations. (I like that David means “beloved,” but Nathan is “gift from God,” which is just hot.) Plus Nate is a great nickname.
So: Nathan F____ Wertheimer. But. That would make his initials NFW. To which this text-messaging father to be said, nfw.
Less than 48 hours before his birth, my parents unearthed a gem: Fritz had not one but two middle names. (This in comparison to my father and uncle, who have no middle name at all, apparently thanks to my grandmother Dorothy’s not wholly inaccurate opinion that Wertheimer was enough of a burden as a name and her boys shouldn’t have to deal with any extras.) Epiphanies abounded! Little Nate could share Fritz’s middle name. No burden of having the initials NFW or, for that matter, going through life as Fritz.
And here we are, with Nathan Jacob sleeping in the other room, with a name that carries on the memory of good souls on both sides of his family. We’ve told everyone that we welcome Fritz as a nickname, but so far, he doesn’t look much like a Fritz. (Maybe in 60 years or so.) He’s a really cute Nate, though.
Let’s fall in love, get married, have a baby… we’ll call him Nate… if it’s a boy
—Prince, “Sign O’ the Times”