The A-Name

by Jay Nordlinger

In Impromptus today, I have Part II of a “Salzburg Journal.” But I’d like to go back to Part I — in which I said something about stigmas attached to German words. I wrote an accompanying Corner post about Polizei, achtung, Führer, etc.

A reader sent the following note:


This was back in the mid-1990s. An elderly member of my synagogue — of German extraction and probably born at the turn of the century — was named Adolf. I had always known that he survived the Holocaust, but not much more than that. In conversation one day, he shared that his wife and family were in fact his “second family” — his parents, siblings, first wife, and all of his pre-war children having been murdered by the Nazis.

I asked him whether he ever thought about changing his name to something other than Adolf. His reply: “My mother gave me that name and it’s all I have left from her. It was my name before that monster seized it. He took everything else from me and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let him take my name too!”

I have an Adolf story of my own, told at least twice in Impromptus over the years — so if you’ve read it, you’re excused! “Newcomers” may find it interesting or amusing.

Years ago, I was in Carnegie Hall, and the lights were dimming after intermission. A man was still in the aisle, apparently unable to find his seat. I heard a woman say, “Adolph?”

I thought, “Adolf? How unfortunate to go through life with that name. It couldn’t be other than a quite old man. In fact, I bet it’s Adolph Green” (the lyricist).

I turned around, and there was Adolph Green, being called by his wife, Phyllis Newman. (His writing partner was Betty Comden, you remember.)

All of this took about 1.5 seconds. Before then, I could not even have told you that Adolph Green lived in New York. But how many Adolphs are there?

That would make a good little piece, actually: “The Death of a Name.”

P.S. Wikipedia tells me that Green was born in 1914.