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GREG: An Essay on Names

Nearly three decades ago, Alan and Laura Katz sat down to dinner, a steaming basket of garlic bread between them, olive oil and vinegar swirling, untouched, already separating as the minutes passed.

In their usual restaurant, with their usual menus and their usual table, their usual waiter, in her black apron and loose tie, asked for their drink orders, Alan ordered waters, instead of their usual beers.

Laura was pregnant, which was not usual, and as they sat in that restaurant, waiting for their spaghetti with clam sauce, they discussed the name for their baby, soon to arrive, a little boy or girl who would change their lives forever.

This baby kicked incessantly and never seemed to stop moving. This baby who, even before seeing the light of day, was already a handful. This baby was a miracle, as, perhaps, all babies are, and his or her name was a point of contention between Alan and Laura. As, perhaps, all baby names are.

Alan wanted a boy named Harry. It made sense– his grandfather was a Harry, her grandfather was a Harry– they could kill two birds with one stone, and honor both of them with one kid. Laura hated the name Harry. Their son would be Harry Katz, and that was a kid waiting to be teased. Still, she relented.

Laura wanted a girl named Zoë. She loved the name ever since she was a teenager. Alan was against it– how could a computer ever type the two dots above the E? It wasn’t practical.

They were interrupted by a woman one table over. She turned in her chair, a smile on her face.

“I hate to interrupt,” She said, “but my daughter is named Zoe. And she is one of the most beautiful, vibrant, joyous girls to live. Zoe is a beautiful name– did you know it means life in Greek?”

So it was settled. They would name the baby Zoe– if they dropped the diacritic. And a few months later, Harrison John Katz was born.

Three years later, my parents finally got to use the name Zoe. To me, the name Zoe has always been so fitting, so beautiful, that I could never imagine anything else. But I nearly wasn’t Zoe– my parents had an entire other name picked out, for a boy who was never born. They had picked out such a meaningful name for my brother, that surely they would choose one equally as beautiful for their second son.

They chose Greg.


Why the hell would they choose Greg? I didn’t know a single Greg. I had no uncles, nor grandfathers named Greg. I didn’t even know any strangers named Greg. To me, the name seemed so pedestrian, so dissimilar to the whimsy of Zoe, that it was almost offensive.

My brother had Zoe (Zoe!) as a backup. And I had Greg?

Even my sister, who was born six years after me, had two beautiful, meaningful given names. If she were a girl, she would be Frances, honoring my great-grandmother who passed away a few months before she was born. If she were a boy, she would be Noah, the leader of the ark, the forefather of Judaism, the man who entered into the first covenant with G-d.

But I had Greg.

Gregs do not change the world. Gregs do not make art, nor write symphonies, nor become president. There are no king Gregs. There are no statues to Gregs. Sure, there is plenty of beauty and honor in the name Gregory, but I wouldn’t be called Gregory. I would be called Greg.

Who would Greg Katz be? Would he be as comedic as I? As attention-seeking? A middle child, waiting for the spotlight, with a flair for the dramatic and an astounding ability to mismanage money? Would he be a good son? A good student? A good person? Or would he be as ordinary as his name?

Would the world be the same, if there was never a Zoe Katz in it?

Thankfully, I am not Greg Katz. Just as my sister is not Noah, nor is my brother Zoe. Just as you are not Will, or Anne, or Sonya, or James.

I am Zoe, the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Eve, born of the Hellenization of the wandering Jews. A name, like Eve, is G-d-given, birthed from the ashes, fertilized in the soil of the garden of Eden. I am Zoe, and all the vibrancy and hope that name carries. I have grown into this immense, expressive name, the name of queens, of stars, of the mother of life itself. I am the humidity of the August day I was born. I am the laughter I cause, and the tears that I cry. I am the infinite sadness and optimism and multitudes that exist within me.

But somewhere, I am Greg. A name I once thought of as pedestrian. As boring. As unimportant. I am Greg, who, I learned, was my father’s best friend from college. Greg, who was just as full of life and laughter as I am today. A man that passed away, lymph-nodes cancerous and swollen, too young, taken before his time.

I am Zoe. But more importantly, I was almost Greg.

This essay was written for ENG-208, Intro to Non-Fiction Writing and was selected as an example of the best work in the class. The prompt was to write an essay about your name to introduce yourself to the class. 

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