Sunday, May 18, 2014

Brought to You by the Letter "B"

For a long time, I've known that my Aunt Claire and her first cousin, Phyllis, both have middle names that begin with "B" -- Claire Bertha and Phyllis Beverly -- and that they were named in memory of the same person.  Except that the person's name began with "B," I knew nothing more.

So I asked my Aunt Claire, who told me that it was my grandfather's mother, Brana.

Looking the name up in my copy of the Complete Dictionary of English and Hebrew First Names, I could not find it as Aunt Claire spelled it:  B-r-a-n-a.

However, the last entry on the bottom of page 294 is "Brina." In addition to noting a Hebrew spelling of bet-resh-yud-yud-nun-aleph, the entry says, "From the Yiddish, meaning 'brown.'  Also, from the Slavic, meaning 'protector.'"

The first entry on the top of page 295 is "Brine."  Like the English spelling, which is nearly identical to Brina except for the last letter, so too does the Hebrew spelling have a different letter at the end:  bet-resh-yud-yud-nun-ayin.  The description of the name, however, is identical:  "From the Yiddish, meaning 'brown.'  Akin to Brune."

Here's what Kolatch has to say about Brune:  "From the Yiddish, meaning 'brown,' or from the German name Brunhild, meaning 'fighter in armor.' See also Brina and Brine."  Like the English, the Hebrew spelling is slightly different than the two previous names:  bet-resh-vav-nun-ayin.

Satisfied that one of these variants was my great-grandmother's name, I asked Aunt Claire what she knew about her.  She said she didn't know much except that she'd died young, and that nobody talked much about her.  Her husband, Jacob, for whom I am named, remarried and lived into his 90s.

I have to admit that Aunt Claire's descriptions of her paternal grandparents make me wonder if it was Brina who carried the BRCA gene mutation that appears to have been passed along to my grandfather (he died from prostate cancer), and definitely came down to my mom, to my aunt, and to me.

Although we'll never know the answer, of course, it seems plausible to me.