Everybody agrees that Robert E. Lee got what was coming to him, which was his own name, Robert Earl Lee, or rather it was coming back to him, since he tried to get rid of it by calling himself Roberto Eduardo Leon. He claimed Leon because he also wanted to claim minority privileges under an affirmative action program in Montgomery County. But the Montgomery County officials would have none of that. They told Mr. Lee he could call himself anything he pleased, including the names everyone else was calling him privately, but for purposes of affirmative action he was no more Spanish than is a French fry French.
That disappointed Mr. Lee, who is patently a conniver, and deserves no sympathy. Yet you can't blame a fellow for wishing to change his name on general grounds alone. You couldn't blame Issur Danielovitch Demsky for changing his name to Kirk Douglas. And you couldn't blame Tula Finklea for changing her name to Cyd Charisse, or Edda Hepburn van Heemstra for Audrey Hepburn, or Francesca Mitzi Marlene de Charney von Gerber for Mitzi Gaynor. If Joe Yule Jr. wanted to call himself Mickey Rooney, that was his business, as it was Norma Dolores Eggstrom's when she became Peggy Lee.
All of which is to lead gently to the announcement that I too changed my name, and I did so a long time ago, for the following reasons:
The name Rosenblatt is the name I was born with, and is the name I write under, and the name used by the people at Reader's Digest sweepstakes when they let me know that I am about to win two houses or $100,000 in cash; but it is not the name by which I think of myself. The name came to me in Ireland in 1965, after 24 hard years dealing with Rosenblatt, which is a sonorous name, but unwiedly. There is the Rosen, which is musical enough and redolent of flowers. But there is also the blatt, which, while merely meaning a leaf or a sheet of paper in German, here has the sound of an overripe pumpkin dropped to the sidewalk from the roof of a cheap hotel.
Yet I lived fairly comfortably with my Rosenblatt throughout childhood, when there were plenty of familial Rosenblatts around me; and I had a grandfather Maximilian Rosenblatt and a grandmother Rose Rosenblatt compared to whose names my own sounded like Cabot. Inevitably there were a few "Rosenfat"s and "Rosenbrat"s hurled by taunting kids. But on the whole, I kind of liked my name, which, for all its weight, had a rather nice roll to it, like Roy Rogers or Robin Roberts, or Robert Redford, who was growing up too.
In teen-agehood, however, life got a bit rougher. For one thing, there was a tennis tournament at a private club in Maine that I was not allowed to enter because my name was Rosenblatt. And since my disqualification had less to do with my name than what my name signified, I learned the hard way what's in a name. Then there was a time or two when important people like girls would shiver with giggles at the mere sound of my name. One girl on a beach, with the mellifluous name of Gabrielle, laughed so hard when I said "Rosenblatt," I wanted to tell her I was kidding.
In college I actually did change my name, on several exam papers, for a whole term - to Roger Craig Lawrence, which I thought had a fine New England gong to it. Professors recognizing my exams by the low grades handed back the papers unerringly without ever saying a word to me or to my friend Peter Weissman, who changed his name to Peter Scott Douglas. (We had another friend, Bob Lichtenfeld, who changed his name to Van Wyck Klingerman, thus missing the point.) But that was mere collegiate game-playing, and I toted old Rosenblatt into graduate school without altering a letter.
There I started to grow happy with my name once again, for by coincidence there were four other Rosenblatts in school at the time, including a Rand Rosenblatt and another Roger, whose existence I discovered when his pals at Princeton wrote to say they were coming to spend the weekend with me. At first the idea of another Roger Rosenblatt was eerie. Dostoevski and Poe have both written stories about people haunted by exact doubles who bear their names, and do them in. I kept my alter-Roger at a distance. Otherwise I was encouraged by the presence of so many Rosenblatts, whose number not only provided safety but also a faint sort of pride.
That was short-lived. In adulthood, as I entered it, there were no more taunts and giggles at the name, but there was something as bad, or maybe worse, in the perverse confusion of my name with those that sound like it - the implication being that when you've seen one Rosensomething you've seen them all. And then I went to live in Ireland for a year, where - in spite of the fact that Ireland is the most hospitable country on earth-I encountered the last straw; where my name was so alien, so odd-sounding (as compared with Nic Shiubhlaigh and Gillhooley) that the postman would fake a coughing fit when he said "Good morning," so as not to get past he "Mr."
But his painful courtesy was not what finally persuaded me to change my name. That occurred at a Dublin book auction, the first (and last) I ever attended, where I brought my meager pennies to bid on a small pile of books, which I actually won. "What's the name?" shouted the auctioneer's assistant over the throng. "Rosenblatt," I answered, followed by general murmuring and bewilderment.
"The name, sir?" repeated the assistant.
"Rosenblatt. With two ts," as if that were the issue.
"Once more, please?"
"Rosenblatt," said I, loud and clear.
And suddenly emboldened, "Rosenblatt" again. And yet another "Rosenblatt," until the full weight of the ancient name, both the Rosen and the blatt, filled the musty hall, thumping on the ceiling, heaving against the walls, the name like a colossus, so big that it extended back in time to Berlin and Heidelberg, to my father and Maximilian and Rose, and all the Rosenblatts forever. I had been challenged in public, and I had risen to it, obliterating all present and former embarrassments, as I, Rosenblatt, stepped forward to claim my pile of books.
There next to the books was a tag on which the assistant had inscribed my name - Frozenwemm. With two ms. And I have kept it to this day.