By Hannah Berman

Blame the Name

Names are important. First names can be particularly important, but surnames can also become problematic for some people.

We usually feel that a name should match the personality and even the appearance of the person. Though it is an unrealistic expectation, it does exist.

In high school, I knew a girl named Cookie. She had a beautiful face and she was a delightful person, but none of that was helpful to her because she weighed over 300 pounds and many of the boys used to ridicule her.

I can clearly recall how they taunted her with, “Hey, Cookie, looks like you had one too many cookies.” It was heartbreaking.

And there was the severely undersized boy in our class who had the misfortune to be named Jacques. The girls were kind, but again, it was the boys who ridiculed him. They would call out, “Hey, Jacques, you’re no jock.” The poor boy used to cringe.

Then there was the kid who was a notoriously poor student. He wasn’t mentally challenged, but he seemed unable to focus. We now know what we didn’t know back then — that there is such a thing as a learning disability. Sadly, this kid really suffered because he was known to be the worst student in the entire grade. His major torture was because the boys, and even some of the male teachers, had the tendency to call other boys by their last name, and this poor kid was Saul Weiser! The boys would shout, “Hey there, Weiser, are you really wise?”

My own name used to give me tremendous grief. I was the only kid with an old-fashioned name like Hannah. None of my peers thought of it as a biblical name, only an old-fashioned one. I was often tagged “Hannah Banana,” which I hated.

As a teen I was addressed as “Hard-Hearted Hannah,” and I hated that even more than the earlier reference to a banana. By the time I was an adult I was labeled “Hannah Montana,” but by then I was mature enough not to care.

Also, by then, by some miracle, my name had become in vogue, and thousands of baby girls were named Hannah. But by then I no longer cared because I had come to think my name was just fine.

Over the past few years, the surname Peterson has had seriously bad implications. It was fifteen years ago when the news-papers were replete with stories about a handsome young man who, by all accounts, was a cad.

His name was Scott Peterson, and his adorable wife, Laci, was nine months pregnant when, unbeknownst to her, he took up with another woman and plotted to get rid of her. For some reason he didn’t consider divorce as an option for getting out of his marriage.

His solution was to kill Laci and their unborn child. His girlfriend, who had no knowledge of the fact that he was married, agreed to be wire-tapped, and she eventually testified against him. This seemingly unrepentant bum was tried and convicted and has been on death row ever since.

Two years later, an ex-cop by the name of Drew Peterson was convicted of killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio. In all, this monster had four wives; two are lucky to still be alive, one was murdered, and one is missing but her remains were never found. Peterson was once a cop, but that’s one heck of a history for anyone. Petersen was incarcerated and is serving a 38-year sentence.

The name Peterson is once again in the news. This is also a Scot (spelled with one “t”) Peterson. He was the armed sheriff ’s deputy in Broward County, Florida, who was a coward and never entered the school, as he had been instructed to do in the event of a shooting. His cowardly act cost 17 innocents — 14 schoolchildren and three adults — to die in a hail of gunfire because a crazed kid wasn’t stopped. This Peterson wasn’t fired because he immediately resigned. He will remain with the shame for the rest of his life.

Personally, I don’t know anyone by the name of Peterson, but every person whose last name is Peterson has my sympathy. What an unhappy bond those folks share thanks to Scott Peterson, Drew Peterson, and now Scot Peterson.

It reminds me of Cookie, Jacques, and a boy named Weiser. I don’t know where these three former classmates are today. I never saw them again after graduation, but I still feel for them for how they were treated, and I hope things turned out well for them and that they are happy and successful.

Things can always be worse; at least their last name wasn’t Peterson! And there is something to be said for that. That’s just the way it is.

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-295-4435.


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