Ear­li­er this week, Roy­al Young inter­viewed his grand­par­ents and wrote about his par­ents’ reac­tion to his debut mem­oir Fame Shark. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I changed my name from Haz­ak Broz­gold to Roy­al Young when I was 20 years old. I was a drunk col­lege drop-out who had moved back into my par­en­t’s Low­er East Side apart­ment with big, unre­al­is­tic dreams and a drink­ing habit too large for my child­hood bed­room. Get­ting rid of my hard to pro­nounce Hebrew name felt like a step toward escap­ing my youth and my dis­ap­prov­ing Jew­ish par­ents. My moniker had set me apart in class­rooms and the ghet­to down­town streets I’d grown up in. The Low­er East Side of my youth was bro­ken glass on uneven side­walks, fast domi­no games, sneak­ers hang­ing from street­lights, Hip Hop blast­ing bass heavy from car win­dows. My grand­par­en­t’s days, when the neigh­bor­hood was an East­ern Euro­pean shtetl trans­plant, were long gone. My par­ents had lit­er­al­ly missed the boat.

They named me Haz­ak Broz­gold to make up for it. Haz­ak means strong” in Hebrew. But I always felt weak. A shy, qui­et book­worm I shrank from the rough streets around me, find­ing escape in mak­ing my neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist mom admin­is­ter me Ror­sach tests instead of going on play dates, or paint­ing crude can­vass­es with my artist/​social work­er father in his clut­tered studio.

Per­haps I escaped too much into my par­ents. By 20, I want­ed to run away from them and hide behind dive bars where they could­n’t reach me or speak the slurred language.

Yet, what start­ed out as a pompous chal­lenge — chang­ing my name to Roy­al Young (my younger broth­er changed his name to Fury Young in a show of stub­born sol­i­dar­i­ty) — strange­ly allowed me to become clos­er to my par­ents and my Hebrew her­itage. I took to Roy­al nat­u­ral­ly. I was used to stick­ing out. I cut down on drink­ing and start­ed get­ting pub­lished under my new byline. Small arti­cles that didn’t pay my rent but made me feel, for the first time in my life, able to pro­vide for myself. I was more com­fort­able with a name that peo­ple pinned to a pro­fes­sion rather than a religion. 

There are legions of Jews who have changed their names to take on larg­er than life careers in writ­ing, act­ing, as artists. Tak­ing on an iden­ti­ty that encour­aged suc­cess seemed like a rite of pas­sage to join this group of my fel­low tribes­men and women. I began to won­der if pick­ing your own per­sona had less to do with dis­guis­ing your her­itage and more to do with find­ing a shield to deal with the more unpleas­ant aspects of mak­ing your work pub­lic. Count­less rejec­tion, hate mail, harsh edit­ing, scruti­ny when my pieces were pub­lished, Roy­al took them all in stride. I’m not sure if Haz­ak would have been able to. 

I also rel­ished hav­ing a part of me that was pri­vate. My par­ents would nev­er stop call­ing me Haz­ak. The way it tripped off my grand­par­ents tongues was with the Ch” Hebrew pro­nun­ci­a­tion at the begin­ning. I loved being able to catch up with my par­ents over week­ly din­ners and be remind­ed, sim­ply by the name they had so lov­ing­ly giv­en me, that I had a healthy, whole, strong fam­i­ly to sup­port me when work became overwhelming. 

It’s been eight years since I start­ed call­ing myself Roy­al. Only this year, with the pub­li­ca­tion of Fame Shark, did I change my pass­port. The change is about com­ing into my own, accept­ing the past, but push­ing for­ward. It’s not about shame, or leav­ing my roots behind. It’s a deci­sion Haz­ak made. One he is final­ly ready to ful­ly be proud of. 

Roy­al Young’s debut mem­oir Fame Shark will be released June 2013 from Heliotrope Books. Young con­tributes to Inter­view Mag­a­zine, New York Post, BOMB Mag­a­zine and The Lo Down.