My mother, bless her, can do no wrong, except when it comes to picking names.
From the moment she decided to name me, her second-born son, Keith Bernard, I have been forced to fend off the inevitable one-liner, "Funny, you don't look Jewish."
Mom isn't Jewish, although she would have made a fantastic stereotype of "The Jewish mother." On the day of the assassination attempt on President Reagan, she called from Detroit "just to see if you were all right." Thank goodness, mom, I survived.
I should be so lucky trying to survive the endless stream of one-liners which I inherited with her name. It could have been worse, I guess. Her first son, my brother, was born right after she had seen a 1950s war film about the German army's campaign in North Africa. Sure enough, my brother she named Rommel Richburg, a name he unilaterally shortened to "Mel" almost as soon as he could speak.
No, instead I was named after both a white-haired movie actor and the breed of the shaggy dog who used to frequent the front yard before it was fenced. And ever since, from the run in my first grade class calling the class roster on opening day to the anonymous phone callers to The Washington Post, I am constantly asked, "You're not Jewish, are you?"
I used to think I was, since so many people assumed so by my name. I asked mom about that once, and she gave me a come-back line I adopted as my own. "Mom, am I Jewish?" I asked. She answered, in that sort of nonchalant way mothers have of answering their children, "Heavens no. You're going to have enough trouble in this world just being black."