Since I was old enough to remember, people have always associated my name with Marilyn Monroe. I am frequently asked if I was named after the former blonde icon. To this day, when new acquaintances or telephone business contacts ask me to repeat my first name, I often say, “I’m Marilyn, like Marilyn Monroe.” In truth, the former Norma Jean did not come onto the scene until after I was born. I was named after my Aunt Mary, and my mother chose my specific name because she loved Marilyn Miller, a stunning blonde who was one of the most popular Broadway musical stars of the 1920s and early 1930s.
Although not a popular name choice today, I have shared my name and life with several other Marilyns. When I was around five years old, our town held a beauty contest. A tall, blonde beauty named Marilyn was declared the winner. I remember feeling the sense of pride that I shared a name with Miss Keeseville 1956.
While going through Keeseville Central School, the only other Marilyn I knew was a classmate two years ahead of me. I always looked up to her as she was one of the sweetest, kindest, and most intelligent people I knew. In her senior year, Marilyn was named Yearbook Queen, the honor given to the most well-liked, respected senior girl. Again, I felt lucky to have the same name as the most popular girl in our small school.
While enrolled in University at Albany, I ran into a few more Marilyns. Two days after moving into our suite, Freshman Marilyn couldn’t get into the program she wanted at University at Albany due to some computer glitch. She called her parents and insisted that they bring her home. Less than a week later, the situation was rectified, and she returned to campus in another dorm. She later became a close friend of my cousin Marsha, and our paths crossed forty-two years later at Marsha’s sixtieth birthday party
Where the “Marilyn” coincidences began to really pile up was in my early twenties. Larry and I met at a Purim party. While sharing hamantashen, we also shared family history. Larry had a sister named Marilyn Shapiro, who, like me, was the third child of four children and the second girl. To add to the confusion, my sister-in-law kept her maiden name when she married. The family has had to distinguish between us by use of our middle names: Marilyn Pearl and Marilyn Renee. My preferred is my tongue-in-cheek version: “The Original” and “The New and Improved.”
From then on, Marilyns were more frequently part of our lives. At Congregation Beth Shalom in Clifton Park, Morah Marilyn took leadership roles in the Hebrew school, moving from teacher to education director. It didn’t even help to use last initials, as her surname also began with “S.” I finally got used to the fact that when people referred to a Marilyn at the synagogue, it was usually in reference to the Hebrew school Morah Marilyn and not Congregant Marilyn.
When Julie got married in 2007, another Marilyn came into the fold. Sam’s parents are Bill Massman and, you guessed it, Marilyn Martynuk. Despite the geographic distance between me and the Fort Collins Marilyn, we have become dear friends, and the four in-laws even rented a condo near Julie and Sam in Frisco, Colorado, the summer our granddaughter was born. We got used to answering to our name based on which husband was calling out to us. As this is Marilyn’s second grandchild, she already had dibs on the moniker of Nana Marilyn. I am not sure what Sylvie Rose will be calling me when she starts talking, but for now, I will be Grandma Marilyn. It is my understanding from several of my friends who have duplicate machatunim names (Bernie and Bernie; Carole and Carol; Bill and Bill), grandchildren rarely have issues distinguishing between them.
During our move to Florida, Larry and I picked up another Marilyn. When we wanted to learn more about the Jewish club at Solivita, we got in touch with Shalom Club Marilyn She, like Morah Marilyn, is immersed in the Jewish community both through the community’s social club and through our new synagogue, Congregation Shalom Aleichem. When we met each other, we found out that we have another connection. For several years, Marilyn, now a retired nurse, volunteered at the Maccabean Games in Israel. In 1997, she and our daughter Julie were part of the United States delegation, Julie as a track and field athlete and Marilyn as a member of the medical team. While packing up our house for our move, Larry and I came across the 1997 Maccabean Games yearbook. There was Nurse Marilyn front and center in one of the pictures.
When I moved to our community in Florida, I joined a women’s writing group in our community, and I met my most recent Marilyn, a published children’s book author. We refer to each other as British Marilyn and Yankee Marilyn, and everyone in the group understands.
While in Colorado during Julie’s pregnancy, I would browse through the stack of baby books she and Sam had accumulated. One of my favorites was a well-thumbed baby name book. Since we were not to learn our granddaughter’s name until she was born, I spent quite a bit of time looking through the paperback, trying to guess which ones sounded like potential winners. Of course, I had to check out the authors’ take on my name. It was not exactly flattering. Despite the Miller and Monroe who had made the name popular in previous generations, the authors stated that this choice had lost its former “stardust.” “Marilyn,” they stated, “has none of the freshness or sparkle that would inspire a parent to use it for a millennial child.”
It was Marilyn Monroe herself who said, “We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle.” Fortunately, I have known many stars named Marilyn, and they all have brought light and sparkle to my life.