Too Many Esthers!

16 Nov

My Grandma Esther had a problem with her name.  She did not mind that she was named after her grandmother, Esther (Etka) Lew Wolf(f).  She enjoyed being named after the heroine of the Purim story.  She just hated that she had four first cousins all named Esther and all named for the same grandmother.

This caused her years of anguish….really.  She even told me about it when I sat down with her in the 1970s to get her family history.   She was already 80 when we spoke.  But  it still bothered her that there were so many Esthers.

Why?  Because each of the Esthers, except for the oldest, was given a nick name to  designate which Esther people were talking about.  There was Pepi Esther; Meshuganah Esther, Curly Esther, Little Esther, and of course, Esther (the oldest who could just be that).

When you look at the family tree, it is confusing, so many Esthers and some with the exact same first and last names! Part of the genealogist nightmare.. They were all born in the late 1890s, when census taking was not as organized as now. But my Grandmother’s memory was fantastic.  So I have an accurate listing of all her aunts and uncles and cousins, including the many Esthers.


My Grandma ‘Curly’ Esther with her three curly haired children.

My Grandma was Curly Esther, because she had very curly hair.  Thank goodness she was not called Meshuganah Esther, she told me,  that would have made her so mad. But then she said,  Meshuganah Esther was really crazy.  So there you go.  But I think, did the name depict her, or did she conform to the nick name she was given?  We will never know.

Grandma told me NEVER EVER to give my child the same name as another first cousin.   It is too confusing.  That is why, when my Dad was born, although he was given the Hebrew name David, his English name just started with a D.   He already had a first cousin named, David, and Grandma was not taking any chances!!. Her children would not have nicknames!

The Esther story followed me to Ann Arbor, Michigan.  My husband and I spent two years there when he was studying.  Grandma said, you have cousins there.  You should go for Passover.  He is the son of Pepi Esther, Joel.  So of course, my husband and I had seder with my second cousin once removed and his family.

When we were ready to leave, I told him to say hi to his Mom, Pepi Esther.  He had NO idea what I was talking about.  Pepi Esther did not suffer the same trauma as my grandmother.   My cousin called me later that week to tell me he spoke to his Mom and found out about the Esthers.  He was laughing as he told me about his conversation with her:  “All my cousins call me Pepi,” she said.  “We just never used it at home.”

Later, when I had my first child, I received a sweater in the mail.  Knitted and sent with love, from ‘Pepi’ Esther.

Needless to say, I was careful about how I named my children.  Since my daughter was the first grandchild on one side, and only the second girl on the other side, I was safe.  She was the only one named after her grandmother who had passed away a year before she was born.  And, although I used her Hebrew name,  my daughter’s English name was different.. My son also was the only one named for my grandfather and my husband’s uncle.. So no duplicate names there either.

However, I now understand my Grandmother’s issue.  My husband and I each have a nephew named Josh.  Well they are both our nephews, but from different sides.   Whenever we talk about them, we add a qualifier, usually their last name or the name of their father.

I would never call anyone Curly or Meshuganah.. I know my Grandma would disapprove.

7 Responses to “Too Many Esthers!”

  1. Amy November 16, 2017 at 5:40 pm #

    Having spent a full day this week dealing with two first cousins named Jacob Goldsmith, born with two years of each other, both born in the same town in Germany, both married to women named Fannie, and both of whom immigrated to the US in 1840 and were living in Philadelphia, I say hallelujah to your grandmother! Trying to sort out the children of those two couples was a nightmare, especially since both also had children with some of the same names!

    My husband has three cousins all named for their grandmother Bessie. Fortunately, their English names are all different—Paul, Paula, and Barry.

    • zicharon November 16, 2017 at 5:42 pm #

      My grandfather was one of at least three Nathan Amsterdam’s all from the same town. But parents were different. It is confusing!! Good luck with your research.

      • Amy November 16, 2017 at 8:41 pm #

        Thanks, Ellen.

  2. Stu November 16, 2017 at 10:24 pm #

    I don’t normally chime in but Grandma Esther told me she was called “Topsy” because of the curly hair and that “meshugana” Esther was given that name behind her back. There was at least one other derisive nickname given in adult years, but I won’t share it because I don’t know who reads these replies.

  3. Anne Wise November 17, 2017 at 11:24 am #

    In my tree i have an aunt and niece withrthe same first who married two brothers, talk about confusing. And that is just one such situation in my family. I got a bunch more just like it.

    • zicharon November 17, 2017 at 11:25 am #

      It gets so difficult. And then there are all the cousin marriages.

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