About Me

I am a second-career teacher. In my other life, I crunched numbers as an accountant. Probably would have made a great math teacher had the thought occurred to me. No matter, I'm where I'm supposed to be; teaching third grade. Before that, 2nd grade and before that kindergarten. I have 2 grown daughters, 2 poodles, and 1 hubby. I live and work on Long Island.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What's in a name?

She was born  Risë Steenberg in New York City; her unusual first name, pronounced REE'-zah, came from her Norwegian forebears. "In school, I was called everything but Risë"she once recalled. "I would have arguments with the teachers. I would say, `I should know how to pronounce my own name.'"

My namesake passed this week. She was 99-twelve years older than my mom would have been.

Her name was  Risë with two dots over the e. She sang for the Metropolitan Opera as a mezzo-soprano. My mom loved that name and she loved opera although she would never see Risë Stevens perform at the Met. Oh no, my mom never had the chance to go to the opera for many reasons. But she saw Risë perform on the Ed Sullivan show and The Tonight Show and heard her sing on the radio. If she had any of her records, I don’t know but she probably did. Because my mother loved music-every kind of music.

And she loved my name. In fact, she loved it so much that she let her brother use it to name my older cousin. So yes dear reader, I had a cousin with the same name making me, little Rissa.

Oh, did you notice the spelling of my name is different? Yes, that was my mom’s way of creating just that little bit of nuance since she gave the name to my cousin who spells her name -Risé not with the dots but with an accent you see?

I was teased for it but I never hated my name. I do not enjoy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups which is what the boys in school called me.

Risë Stevens was born in NYC to a Norwegian-born father and an American Jewish mother. The  New York Times obituary gives the pronunciation of her name as REE-suh which is how I pronounce mine. But it is actually the obit in the Philadelphia Inquirer that shows the correct pronunciation of her name: REE’-zah.

There are two pronunciations to my name as well.  My dad insisted that the correct pronunciation would be RISS-suh since that is how it is spelled. So if someone calls me that, I never correct them because it reminds me of my dad. But when I am asked, I say it rhymes with Lisa. Some call me Reese and I quite enjoy that. There is one person on earth that calls me RISS and that's my sister.

What's in your name? I'd love to hear!


  1. Rissa, I love this post. I love how you speak directly to the reader. Very powerful. I also like the emotion attached to the pronunciation of your name - because of the way your dad said your name.

  2. What a cool story with your name. I used to be teased about my name (or maybe it was just my sensitivity) since Kay can be a boy's or girl's name. I was named after my Grandmother, Blonnie Kemp, called Blonnie K. I am glad my parents picked Kay over Blonnie.

  3. Yes, very cool story and post! I was named after the plantation in Gone With the Wind.

  4. I love this story of your name. It is so great to see how an ordinary thing can give us much to write about. My name is pronounced many different ways as well and I never really care about whether people get it right. I don't have a great story about why I am named this just that my mother liked the name.

  5. Such an interactive slice, love it! My name does not come from an opera singer, but a soap opera :( I was born in the 80's and was named after Krystle in Dynasty...spelled Crystal. I do have some history with my middle name however. Rose was a name passed down 4 generations to me. My niece's middle name is Rose and in April if I have a girl...her middle name will be Rose.

  6. My name has no fantastic story or meaning, as far as I know. It was the #1 most popular name in the year I was born. I always wished I had a more unique name. However, your story has inspired my blog post for Sunday :) so thanks!

  7. AW I love this post. You have a great story behind your name and I think it's hilarious your mom loved it so much that she named you Rissa regardless of your older cousin. My name's Brighid. THe h is silent- it's pronounced like the standard "Brigid," but many mistakenly give the g a soft sound and prnouce the h as well. I don't mind correctly them I expect it and it makes me smile. It's gaelic for,"strength" I just found out my grandma, who passed when I was a baby picked it out from a book. It's fitting- she was a seriously strong woman herself. Thanks for sharing your story. I love it!

  8. I'm a typical Ashkenazi Jewish girl. The first initial of my first and middle names are after my great-grandparents: Samuel and Anna (for Stacey Anne).

    Thanks for sharing your namesake story. How very special to learn about!

    1. Funny thing Stacey, my Hebrew name is Rachel and I am named for my mother's grandmother but I don't know much about her!

  9. I think my parents just liked my name (Rachel). Oddly enough, I also have a Hebrew name (Chaya) but I don't know why I have both.

  10. We named our middle daughter "Rhyss." It is derived from "Reese." Her name is pronounced "ris." She is usually first called "rice" when someone had never seen her name. She wrote a "name" essay this year and discussed how proud she is of her name. That made me smile.

    We often tell her, according to our baby book, her name means "fiery and zealous." She hated that at first, be we remind her how her name fits her with all of the passion she exudes in all she does.

    Thank you for sharing the stories behind your name. Your post was beautiful.

  11. My mother once told me that if any of my older brothers had been born girls, that little girl would have been named Kelly. After 3 tries, Mom gave up on that name. So, here I am, Christine; the fourth, the youngest, and the only girl. I was also the only granddaughter on my mother's side; Mom has two sisters and neither of them had a girl!

    Thanks for sharing your story!


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