You Say Rachel, I Say Rebecca

(Graphic: Helen Jane Hearn/

“Pooooooosh, Rachel! You can do it!”

The delivery nurse had a strong Brazilian accent. It was one of the things I’d noticed most about her while she repeatedly shouted my name in her role as coach in the final throes of my labor. She’d appeared halfway through the pushing phase, after the entire previous team ended their twelve-hour shift.

I also noticed something else.

“Rebecca!” I wheezed, between pushes. “My name is Rebecca!”

There she stood, at my right side, her eyes fixated on the doula across the delivery table whom early on she’d deemed an unwelcome adversary on her turf. Whenever the doula would suggest something to the medical staff in an effort to be helpful, the nurse would exaggeratedly roll her eyes to the ceiling and whisper a little complaint in my ear. When the doula would give me verbal encouragement — “Rebecca, you’re being so strong!” — the nurse would toss in her two cents: “Almost there, Rachel!” As though, on principle, refusing to be on the same page whatsoever as anything her nemesis uttered.

Did she not even bother looking at my chart carefully? I could have wondered. Does she think all Americans are named Jessica or Rachel or Jenny? Did she learn English from “Friends?”

But I didn’t. Because it was, by far, not the first time this had happened.

People have reverted to calling me Rachel my entire life. Before the parallel parking portion of the driving test. At the funeral home (Rachel, have you chosen an outfit for your mother to be buried in?). In a new client pitch meeting. On the entire duration of a really bad JDate.

The oversight always bothered me. I was curious as to why people couldn’t take two seconds to read my name or listen when I introduce myself. Or if I’m so unmemorable that I’m simply not worth the effort of getting it right. Or if all long-haired Jewish girls really look the same.

Granted, Rachel isn’t a bad thing to be called. It’s a beautiful name in its own right. Throughout most of the civilized world, it conjures up the spunky image of a beloved sitcom character with mid-90s layers galore. My most famous pop culture namesake? A creepy dead woman.

But I love my name. The one my parents had playfully argued over for months during my mother’s pregnancy, when my father had insisted on me growing up Abigail Rosenberg. Whose Old Testament representative was righteous and pure and whose Hebrew meaning is to “join together.” (Rachel’s meaning: Ewe. As in, sheep.) That a handful of Latin American boyfriends made sound so sensual during my years living in Spain and Venezuela. Rrrrrrrrebecca.

Yet, there I was, on the delivery room table with blinding lights in my face, again being called by a name not my own. Though I was focused on the task at hand, I couldn’t shake the nagging sense of frustration that it was happening at this particular time. What would it mean, being called the wrong name during the most profound moment of my life so far? Would it somehow invalidate the experience?

Suddenly, I was on my final push. The one the OB had kindly lied was just around the corner for the last 90 minutes. Then, my baby was here, staring at me with gentle awe.

“Congratulations, Rachel! You did it! Look at your beautiful little boy! Jason, hold her hand!”

And you know what? In that moment, finally, I didn’t care at all.

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2 Responses

  1. Rachael Gaffney

    I found this article a little funny because my name is Rachael (yes the odd spelling is always fun too), but have often been called Rebecca. At some point, I just gave up and let people call me what they wanted. They usually felt rather embarrassed when they realized on their own that they had been calling me the wrong name all along.

  2. Rebecca

    Yea my name is Rebecca 🙂 and I get called Rachael more times then Rebecca! Glad I’m not the only one.


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