Life

And His Name Shall Be Called Something Hard to Remember

A stained glass rendering of Jacob on a throne with a scepter, and a nametag that says "Hello, My Name Is ISRAEL."
And some of them said, What if we came up with a name that meant both?
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Jorisvo/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

This piece is excerpted from Something That May Shock and Discredit You, published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2020 Danny M. Lavery.

And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

—Genesis 32:28

And they said to him, It’s not that we don’t like the name Israel, it’s just that we’ve always called you Jacob. We’re so used to it.

And he said to them, Right, no, I get that, I do know that you’ve always called me by that name before, I hadn’t forgotten. I’ve been used to it too, haha! And I really appreciate your bearing with me —

And they said, Well, first things first, you should definitely know that we’re going to get it wrong sometimes.

And again he said, Of course! I figured that.

And they said, We just really want to stress, before moving on to any other topics, that we’re going to forget a lot, and use the old name. That’s the first thing we want you to know, now that you’ve made your request, just how badly we plan on carrying it out.

And Jacob said, OK.

And they said that a lot. And everyone else said that, too, with astonishing regularity upon hearing the new name, so eventually when Jacob—sorry, Israel—told anyone about it he started saying it for them, to save time, My name shall no longer be called Jacob but Israel for I have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed but I don’t expect you to get it right all of the time, I know it’s a big change, I totally understand that it’ll take some time to adjust.

And some of them said, What if we came up with a name that meant both? Sort of in-between until it feels more natural? Like Isracob or Jasrael. Yeah, we’re going to call you Isracob.

To which Israel said, I—OK. If you think it’ll help.

And they said, Thanks for understanding. It’s just that this is really hard for us too, you know? In some ways, it’s like you’ve died.

To which Israel said, In which ways?

And they said, Please don’t get defensive.

And some of them took “it’ll take some time to adjust” as “forever,” which had not been what Jacob—Israel! Sorry, sorry, sorry! It’s just that my brain is so used to saying Jacob, because you really are Jacob in my brain, just Jacob-doing-something-weird-these-days—had meant at all.

And some of the others said Israel some of the time, and Jacob some of the time, exclaiming Oh, my God, oh, my God!! ISRAEL, sorry, oh my God I’m SO sorry after each accidental Jacob such that each time was more noticeable than the time before, and Israel found himself saying It’s fine, don’t worry about it, it’s totally fine, don’t feel bad, I didn’t even notice, Jacob is fine, I honestly always liked Jacob better anyways.

Book Jacket: an oil painting of a distinguished looking white guy with wavy hair and his hand on his temple, alongside the book's title.
Atria Books/Simon & Schuster