Irish Name, Jewish Person
Meet Tara Dublin. She’s Jewish, not Irish. Yes she’s quite aware that her name sounds like a character from “Darby O’Gill and the Little People.” Read More
“Come on, that’s not your real name!”
“You must be Irish with a name like that!”
“When Irish eyes are smilin’….”
Bring it on, people, I’ve heard ‘em all.
My name is Tara Dublin, and yes, that is my real name. It’s on my birth certificate, driver’s license, and Social Security card. I didn’t have it changed from Lishka Rabinowitz or anything like that. It’s the name my parents gave me. When people hear my name, they immediately begin speaking to me in an Irish accent. That’s become something I’m so used to, I feel like I should be carrying my own little pot of gold by now. Tara is the throne of the ancient Irish kings, you see. And well, we all know that Dublin is the capital of Ireland (although telemarketers can’t seem to grasp this; they often call and ask for “Mr. or Mrs. Doo-blin.” And, come on, really?). I had fun going through customs at Shannon Airport with that name stamped in my passport; it got laughs from everyone in the country who saw it, plus offers of free drinks (alas, I was pregnant with my second son at the time).The thing is, I feel bad for the people when I have to tell them the truth about myself, because I know I’ll be disappointing them. And you don’t want to disappoint a pub full of drunken revelers in Killarney, let me tell you.
I’m not Irish at all, you see. Not in the least. My family tree has no branches—nor even a leaf—that touch the Emerald Isle. There might have been a great-great-grandmother who grew up in England, but her parents had brought her there straight from the shtetl, to escape the pogroms.
Oh, didn’t I tell you? I’m not only not Irish, I’m Jewish. Yes, for reals.
It takes a while for people to grasp this fact. How can it be, with a name like mine?
Here’s my theory, because my father’s family never checked into their heritage: there’s a town in Poland called Lublin. We do know that some of his family came from Poland, so the thinking is that someone in the bloodline got Corleone’d at Ellis Island and got the surname of Lublin, but the L looked too much like a D, and the name became Dublin.
My mother’s side of the family has been thoroughly traced by my Aunt Deena, and the Worgaftiks go back to Russia, some connected to royalty, all Jewish. So I am a legit Jewish American (Princess is debatable). I know there are Daublins somewhere in Florida, employing the use of the ‘a’ to sound less Irish and more Jewish (not that it was great to be either in early 1900’s New York).
So here I am, Tara Dublin, daughter of Michael and Bonnie, Bat Mitzvahed at Temple Shalom in Matawan, New Jersey, in 1982. Every new teacher would joke about my name. I could never find a personalized license plate or mug at Spencer’s in the mall. No one ever heard my name correctly over the phone: “Kara? Karen? Carol?” For years I wished I was like every other Stacey, Jennifer, and Kristin.
The name thing got a little more interesting when my family moved from New Jersey to suburban Atlanta in the late 80s. Not only did I sound like an extra from “My Cousin Vinny” to everyone’s ears, my first name is taken from the Southern Bible (also known as “Gone with the Wind”). I quickly learned to use my name to my advantage for the first time while waiting tables at a Ruby Tuesday in the Lenox Square Mall:
Me: “Hi, my name is Tara, and I’ll be your server today—“
Customer (usually an older lady in a sweater set. In Atlanta. In July. Who only ever orders salad): “Tara, like in ‘Gone with the Wind’?!”
Me (suddenly speaking in a Southern accent): “Whah, YAY-US! It’s my momma’s FAYVRITE movie? And do you know whut? My momma’s name is Bonnie, just like Scarlett’s little baby who DAHED, didn’t you just CRAH when that happened?”
My tip would go up at least two bucks after that.
The University of Georgia Drama Department was a den of sin when I transferred there in 1989, with students and faculty alike behaving somewhat like the cast of “Rome” well before its time. People smiled at each other in the hallways while stealing their partners at parties. Into this waltzes Loudmouth Jewish Girl from New Jersey, naïve to the ways of getting by in the South and how to navigate its odd traditions. In other words, I was neither genteel nor overtly slutty. My religion, however, was known to all soon after my arrival. A grad student kicked the Coke machine and announced loudly: “This machine just Jewed me out of a quarter!”
“Hey!” I yelled. “What the fuck did you just say?”
She turned to me, oblivious, and repeated it word for word.
“I can’t believe you actually said that,” I fumed. “I’M Jewish!”
“You are NOT!” she barked at me. “Your name is DUBLIN.”
“So?” I said. “I am Jewish. I had a Bat Mitzvah and everything.”
“You don’t even look Jewish,” she sneered.
“Yeah, I had my horns shaved off before I crossed the Mason-Dixon line,” I retorted.
By now, a small group of our fellow drama majors had quietly begun to form. The grad student had 3 years and 40 pounds on me. I wasn’t about to back down, however. I had to represent for my peeps.
Hands on my hips, I demanded an apology. “If I’m the first Jewish person you’ve ever met”—turns out, I was—“then I’ll be happy to educate you on all the shit you have wrong. Or you can be ignorant, your choice.”
We didn’t become besties or anything that would make this story adaptable for Lifetime TV, but she did apologize. I explained to her how I came to be called Tara Dublin, which made her laugh. She once lamented, during an acting class, that her Christmas Eve birthday led to a lot of “birthday slash Christmas gifts”. “My birthday is at the end of April,” I told her, “so I never have to worry about birthday slash Passover presents.”
“Tara,” she sighed in reply, “it must be so cool to be so…ethnic.”
I love my name now, although it still causes people some confusion. On Twitter, where I’m “taradublinrocks”, I’m often followed by young men in Ireland who mistake me for being a club DJ. I lose at least 5 followers per day thanks to this, though they’re welcome to keep riding the crazy train that is my Twitter feed. Out here in Portland, where I’ve been living for nearly a decade, my East Coast pronunciation throws the locals a tad. “Is it Tare-a or Tah-ra?” they ask (“Actually, it’s Ta-RAH!” is what I want to reply). We do have Jews out here, despite what you may think, though I’m not joining a temple sisterhood anytime soon (that’s a topic for another blog). Trolling out the “My family got Corleone’d at Ellis Island” line brings more laughs in Portland than it ever did when I lived in Albany, Georgia.
My name might not give away my true heritage, while it does align me with one that I have no biological connection to. It’s almost like having dual citizenship! The Irish treat me like a Daughter of Erin, while my fellow M.O.T.’s are quick to recognize when they find out that I do, in fact, belong with them. On March 17th, I proudly wear a “Not Irish—Kiss Me Anyway!” shirt, and light all the candles on Chanukah. Hopefully, it’s a name that will keep resonating with people, so that I land a book deal and get to charm the talk show hosts on the promo circuit.
I have this really funny anecdote about my name, you see…