A Very Difficult, Complicated, Challenging Name

As a child I read the story of Goldilocks. Gold – i – locks: three syllables. Before long I could write her name and spell it accurately. Everyone in Second Class at Leeton Public School achieved the same competence. We were pretty sharp in those days, in Leeton, New South Wales.

My name is Goldenberg. Gold-en-berg. Three syllables.

It was in the year 1972 that my childhood wish to receive letters in the mail was fulfilled. Advertisers wrote me letters, medical specialists wrote to me, insurors, charities and other mendicants all wrote to the doctor. Most of them mastered the three-syllable test that we Leeton Alumni passed in 1952.

Those who had most trouble with my three syllables were medical specialists. Lots of them wrote to Dear Dr Goldenburg. The vagrant ‘u’ looked ugly.One wrote: Dear Dr Rosenberg. I knew a few Doctors Rosenberg. Were they receiving letters addressed to Goldenberg?

I had a few letters addressed to Dr Goldstein. I feel flattered: David Goldstein, the eminent oncologist, is a remote relative by marriage, and one of Medicine’s natural intellectuals.

One distinguished colleague wrote to: DearDr Rosenstein. Stein the crows!


I was thrilled to be addressed as Dr Rosenkrantz. Obviously a Shakespeare enthusiast.

I’ve received lots of letters addressed to Dr Goldberg. Goldbergs are thick on the ground; we three-syllable Goldenbergs are fewer. Those thick Goldbergs – many of them lovely people – suffer syllable envy.

Last week an insurer wrote to me as follows: Dear Dr Glodenburg. Three syllables, two innovations!

Language advances, spelling evolves, we progress.


Reverend Horton Heat and…

Sheltering from the rain where the tram meets the train it occurs to me I’m at a hub, the locus of the hurrying many. A good spot to promote your goods or your services or your gig. At my feet, on a patch of dry asphalt, a sort of yellow mound takes my eye. The mound turns out to be a pile of magazines, the strong yellow blazoned with bold script in magenta. It’s intended to catch the commuter’s eye.

When it comes to reading material I am my mother’s son. The printed word always lured Mum from the world of people and food and things: if it was legible Mum would leg it.

Me too. This was readable material so I read. I read CHOPPED. None the wiser I peered at the words in a smaller font. These are the words I read:






Hmmm. I guessed these were musical groups, bands, we used to call them. There was more:


Guantanamo Baywatch. Clever. I liked it.


Puta Madre Bros. Rude, naughty. I liked it.


Drunk Mums. Why not? 


The Cherry Dolls. Chris Russell’s chicken Walk. Ho hum.


The Pinheads. If you have that originality you aren’t one.


West Thebarton Brothel Party. I recalled the two occasions I went window shopping in a brothel. That was Hong Kong, not Thebarton West.


The Shabbab. Shepparton Airplane. There’s a ring to these.


La Mancha Negra. What can that mean? Probably nothing. Word stuck, word-drunk, I always want to decode the metaphor. A mistake: listen to the music.


The Reprobettes. Pretty literate. A snob, I am mildly surprised.


Flour. Hmmm.


Amyl and the Sniffers. Naughty again, very naughty. I am enjoying my morning’s reading. 


Racing on (I hear my tram approaching) – Slim Customers. King Puppy & the Carnivore. Thee Cha Chas. Was that three or thee? The eye wants to see what it wants.


Tape Wolves. Red Brigade. Do the members of this group know much about the Red Brigades?


Itchy Scabs. I love it.


The team pulls up as I read: Double Yad. Golly. I feel no doubt at all the namegiver intends this name. Understands the acronymic coupling of the Hebrew letter yad. Knows it to be the abbreviated form of the Ineffable Name.


My God!



Bob in Starbucks 

I’d like a soy chai latte, please.

Grande? Venti?

A shake of my ignorant head.

The young man explains.

Grande please.

Marker pen raised above paper cup: What’s your name, sir?


Pardon me?



Next time, a different Starbucks: what’s your name sir?


Pardon me?


Sure, Bob. Won’t be long.


Bob loiters and in truth it is not long before he is drinking the curiously tolerable blend of sugar, sugar, sugar, spices and soy.


My name has always been plastic.

I keep at home a newspaper cutting from ‘The Murrumbidgee Irrigator’ of early January 1946, announcing the birth of Yvonne and Myer Goldenberg’s second child: ‘Myer and Yvonne Goldenberg are delighted to welcome their second child, Adrian. Brother to Dennis.’

Friends flocked to the Leeton District Hospital to congratulate Myer and Yvonne and to commiserate with Adrian. Horrible name, they said to my parents. Do you really hate him that much?

Ben and Ethel visited, bringing their four-year old boy, Howard. Mum looked at Dad, Dad looked at Mum and Adrian became Howard.


I got used to Howard. The softness in Mum’s voice as she spoke the name, the pride in Dad’s, convinced me Howard was good. I used it for a long time.


I came to Melbourne, became an adult and learned to drink coffee. I patronised Universita Café where a short, round young waitress named Theresa asked me my name.




OK John, I’ll bring your cappuccino to your table.

She did, John drank and the coffee was excellent.

John patronised the Universita for twenty years.

One day I bumped into a man there whom I knew. (I had his baby son’s foreskin at home, but that is another story.)

Hello Zev.

Hello Howard.

We sat down.

Theresa brought our coffees. Handing me my cappuccino, she said, There you are John.

Zev said, Who’s John? This is Howard.

Theresa looked confused. Mortified actually.

I never had the heart to return to the Universita.


I reverted to Howard for a further score of years. And remained Howard. Until I broached the threshold of Starbucks.