My 2017 A to Z themes revealed

Continuing my tradition of themes related to my writing, this year I’m featuring places and things from my WIP, The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, and its sequels (each following a different group of characters), Sweet Miracles and Rebuilding the RemnantsBranches in turn begins with three of the characters from The Natural Splash of a Living Being escaping a death march, while Splash continues without them.

Branches is set in locales including Abony, Budapest, Florence, Paris, Béziers, Montpellier, and NantesSweet Miracles follows the characters who immigrate to Newark in November 1948 (the name taken from the mousery and rabbitry one of the couples starts), and Remnants follows the characters who immigrate to Israel after the British are finally gone.

You’ll learn about topics like:

Dohány Utca Synagogue, the Great Synagogue of Budapest and one of the largest in the world, which Eichmann used as his headquarters during the Nazi occupation.

Jewish Newark, which is now sadly just a fading memory. In the mid-twentieth century, Newark had the sixth-largest Jewish community in the U.S., with countless synagogues, schools, bakeries, cemeteries, and other communal institutions.

Machal, the all-volunteer fighting force from abroad which helped Israel to win its War of Independence.

La Samaritaine, a historic department store in Paris.

Hashomer Hatzair, a Socialist–Zionist youth group which supported a binational state. (Contrary to what many people on the modern-day Left believe, it’s very possible to be both a Socialist and Zionist without any conflicts!)

Vailsburg, a Newark neighborhood which now has a much different character than it did at mid-century. It includes a former movie palace which today serves as a church.

Košice, Slovakia, the hometown of my character Artur Sklar and Slovakia’s next-largest city. It was also the first European settlement to get a coat of arms.

Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova, Florence’s oldest hospital, founded by the father of Dante’s love Beatrice.

Basilica di Santa Croce, an impressive complex that’s so more than just a church. It contains Dante’s empty tomb, waiting for Ravenna to return his bones already.

Neology, a uniquely Hungarian denomination that’s akin to Liberal Modern Orthodox Judaism.

Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze, the breathtaking Great Synagogue of Florence, which was saved from Nazi destruction in 1944 by brave members of the Italian Resistance. They managed to diffuse almost all of the explosives left by the retreating occupiers.

University of Montpellier, one of the oldest universities in the world, and home to the world’s oldest med school still in operation.

Pasarét, a Bauhaus neighborhood on the Buda side of Budapest.

Gellért Hill, a beautiful, storied hill on the Buda side, with lovely outlooks of the entire city.

Lower Galilee, a beautiful, peaceful region I hope to someday live in, far from the maddening rush of the big cities, and with wonderful interfaith relations. You’ll learn the story behind the most bizarre grave I’ve ever seen!

Several letters have two or three topics, but I kept everything within my usual average of 400–800 words. All non-public domain photographs are properly credited. Since I’ve been to the Lower Galilee, many of those photographs are my own work.


My names blog will feature (mostly) names from Greek mythology. Since the Greek alphabet doesn’t have certain letters, I found mythological names from other cultures for those days. In the interest of fairness, I always do both a female and male name on each day.

A primer on Hungarian names

In the spring of 1995, I developed a love of all things Hungarian when I read Aranka Siegal’s memoirs Upon the Head of the Goat and Grace in the Wilderness, and the most haunting book I’ve ever read, Isabella: From Auschwitz to Freedom. The late Isabella Leitner’s memoirs were originally published in two volumes, which are even more haunting, Fragments of Isabella and Saving the Fragments. A number of meaningful, powerful passages and lines were left out of the updated, combined volume.

It therefore stood to reason that some of my Shoah characters would be Hungarian as well: Eszter Kovács (later Kovács-Gerber) and her sisters Mirjam and Sára, Jákob Gerber, Csilla Bergman, Aranka Rubin, Klaudia Buchsbaum, Kálmán Rein, and Móric Heyman. There’s also Pali Weiss of my Atlantic City books, who comes to America by way of Switzerland in 1942 and eventually marries dear little Malchen (Amalia) von Hinderburg. I also added the Laurel-Esterházy family in 1963, several of whom marry into Cinnimin’s family and some of the other main families.

Partly as an excuse to use Hungarian names, partly because I’ve always been haunted by how late into the war Hungarian Jewry was decimated. Hungary was invaded 19 March 1944, and the deportations (except for Budapest, where the odds for survival were somewhat improved) began in late April and lasted till July. At least those few extra years gave some young people the chance to be old enough to survive.

I use accent marks (whenever I know their placement) for my Russian names and words, even though normally they’re not written outside of dictionaries and instructional volumes. It’s to give non-Russians and non-Russophiles a pronunciation guide. Not so with Hungarian. Accent marks in names and words are always written out, no matter where they are.

I quickly caught on to the fact that most Hungarian nicknames seem to end in an I. A number of nicknames additionally end in -csi, -ka, or -iska. In Hungarian, CS is its own sound and pronounced like CH. For example, Csilla is pronounced Cheela. SZ is pronounced kind of like a Z. A C alone is pronounced like the TS sound in Tsar. And of course, As and Is are always long. I cringe when I hear Anglo manglings of Eastern European names, even knowing it’s usually unintentional.

Here are some common Hungarian names and their nickname forms and English equivalents (when not immediately discernable), courtesy of a wonderful Hungarian names site that is now only accessible through This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some of the more popular/traditional names.

Ábel—Ábi, Ábika
Ágoston, Gusztáv—Guszti, Gusztika
Álajos (Aloysius)—Ali, Alika, LOjás
Álmos—Álmi, Álmoska
Ambrus—Ambris, Ambriska
András (Andrew)—Bandi, Andriska, Bandika, Andris, Endre
Antal (Anthony)—Toni
Árpád—Árpi, Árpika
Balázs (Blaise)—Balázska
Béla—Bélus, Béluska
Bernát—Berni, Berci, Berkó
Csongor—Csongi, Csoni, Csonika
Dániel—Dani, Dán, Dancsa, Danscó, Dacó, Dascó
Dénes—Déni, Déneske
Dezső (Desiderius, and don’t ask me how to pronounce the slanty umlaut!)—Dezsőke
Ede (Edward)—Edi, Eduska
Elek (Alexis, a name I still consider male)—Lekcsi
Farkas (Wolf)—Farcsi, Farko
Fábián—Fábi, Fabó
Ferenc (Francis)—Feri, Ferko, Ferike
Frigyes (Frederick)—Frici
Fülöp (Philip)—Fülöpke
Gábor, Gábriel—Gabi, Gabika
Gáspár (Casper)—Gáspárka, Gazsi
Gergely (Gregory)—Gergö, Gerö
György—Gyuri, Gyurika
Henrik—Hencsi, Heni, Henrike
Imre (Emery)—Imrus, Imi, Imruska
István (Steven)—Pista, Pisti, Pityu, Pistika, Pityuka
János—Jani, Jancsi, Janika, Jancsika
József—Jóska, Józsi, Józsika, Jóci, Jóka
Kálmán—Kálcsi, Kálmus, Kálmuska, Kálmánka
Károly (Charles)—Karcsi, Karcsika, Károlyka
Lájos (Louis)—Lajcsi, Lali, Lajcsika
László (Leslie)—Laci, Lacika, Lackó, Lala
Mihály (Michael)—Misa, Misi, Miska, Misika
Miklós (Nicholas)—Miki, Miklóska
Nándor (Ferdinand)—Nándi, Nándika
Pál (Paul)—Pali, Palcsi, Palika, Palcsika
Péter—Peti, Petike
Sándor (Alexander)—Sanyi, Elek, Dodi
Szabolcs—Szabi, Szabika
Tivadar (Theodore)—Tibi, Tibike
Vilmos (William)—Vili, Vilike, Vilmoska
Zoltán—Zoli, Zolike

Agáta—Ági, Ágika
Amália, Amélia—Ama, Amácska, Amál, Amálika, Amálka
Anna—Aniko, Panni, Anika, Ancsa, Annus, Annuska
Aranka (Aurelia)—Ari, Arany
Cecília—Cili, Cica, Cicu
Csilla—Csicsi, Csili, Csilika, Csiluska
Dorottya—Dóra, Dóri, Dorika
Emese, Emma, Emilia—Emi, Eme, Emike, Emika
Erzsébet (Elizabeth)—Erzsi, Bözsi, Erzsika, Bözsike
Eszter—Eszti, Esztike
Éva—Évi, Vice, Évike
Gyöngyi (Pearl)—Gyöci, Gyöngyike
Hajnalka (Dawn, Aurora)—Hajnal, Hajnika
Ibolya (Violet)—Ibi, Iboya, Ibolyka
Ilona (Helen)—Ilonka, Ica, Ilus, Cilka, Ilke, Ili
Jácinta—Cinta, Cinti, Jáci, Cintus, Cintuska, Cintácska
Jolán (Yolanda)—Joli, Jolénka
Júlia, Julianna—Julcsa, Julsi, Juli, Juliska
Katalin—Kato, Kata, Katinka, Kati, Katica, Katika
Lidia—Lica, Lici, Licu, Licácska, Licike, Licuka, Licus
Magda, Magdaléna, Magdolna—Magdi, Magdus, Magdika, Duci
Margit, Margaréta—Manci, Maca, Margitka
Mária—Manci, Maris, Mari, Mara, Marika, Ria, Rica, Mariska, Marica, Rika
Orsolya (Ursula)—Orsi, Orsika
Piroska (Priscilla)—Piri, Pici, Pircsi
Róza, Rozália—Rózsika, Rózika, Rózi
Sára, Sarolt, Sarolta—Sári, Sárika
Terézia, Teréz, Tessza—Teca, Teri, Terike, Teszi, Teszike
Valéria—Vali, Valika, Valérke
Viktoria—Vica, Viki, Vicus, Viktus, Viktorka
Zoltána—Zolcsi, Zolcsika
Zsuzsanna—Zsuzsi, Zsuzsa, Zsuzsika

Obviously there are a plethora of other Hungarian names, many of which I’ve used for my characters and their friends and family (Klaudia, Olivér, Cipora, Ráhel, Stella, Brúnó, Emánuel, Aladár, Xénia, Beatrix, et al). This is just intended as a little taste of what the world of Hungarian onomastics has to offer.