What’s in My Name?

Dear Liza,

My Art Journal assignment for Monday was to make a picture of the origin or meaning of my name. This became a bigger project of memory, photo hunting, and watercolor. Yehudit is the Hebrew origin of my name, Judy. It means both “praised” and simply “ a woman from Judea.” But Julia Harris, the woman I am named after, had more American beginnings. Born in about 1915, the youngest daughter of an Arkansas pig farmer, she was given the elegant name “Julia” in hopes she would be pretty and marry well.

But once Julia grew up, she had no interest in marrying. She took advantage of World War II to move far from Arkansas, change her name to Judy (Julia was just too fancy) and work for McDonnell-Douglas aeronautics in California as a riveter. 

The long journey of my name….

My Momma was working there, too, and they became great friends. Both being from large farm families, both out on their own for the first time, they would go bowling together when their shifts ended. Then Momma met Dad and got married, and quit work to stay home and make babies.


Fast forward a year or so. Momma, now home with my big brother Tim and pregnant with Jim, listened to my dad tell about the new ‘girl’ at work. He described her so clearly that Momma recognized her friend Judy. Judy had left work at the plant shortly before Mom and Dad got married, returning to Arkansas.

When she returned, she told of how she had married a boy back home and that he had been killed in the war. She had come back to work in California with her old friend Ruth, and they took an apartment together. Ruth was a real estate agent (a rarity for women until the war took all the men away) and Judy kept up her engineering training at McDonnell-Douglas.

Judy and Ruth remained close to my parents for the next eight years, and when my Mom finally had her girl (me) she named me Judy after her dear friend.
I must have met Judy when I was a baby, but I don’t remember it. She and Ruth moved to Lancaster, California, and then Sedona, Arizona, and we just never got to visit. She and Momma wrote regularly, and I heard about her my whole life.

Fast forward to 1998. After my Dad died, I asked Momma where she would like to go, who she would like to visit. First, we spent some time with family in Oklahoma.

Judy Harris and Momma, 1989

Then we went to Sedona. Judy had lost Ruth just the year before. They had been together since 1946. Their double wide mobile home was decorated in the height of style from the 1960s, with rattan furniture and ceramics with an Asian theme. Judy, at the age of 86, led us on hikes, visits to the Church of the Rock, and a full day of pancakes and antiquing in Sedona. When we were too tired to walk anymore, we talked ourselves blue in the face.

I liked this woman I was named after. She was direct, strong, positive, and funny. She had made her way in life with a partner, not a husband, and she had lived a good life.

Then Momma and I went back to California. Judy and I wrote back and forth, and called each other on holidays. A few years later we got word that Judy had passed away at the age of 97. She had a good, long life. Momma passed a few years later.

This is the best photo I have of Judy and Momma, taken that spring in Sedona. But the most important things about both of them didn’t show on the outside, anyway. Momma’s kindness and loving heart, and Judy’s strength, friendship, and willingness to live a good life in her own way, don’t show up in pictures. But they make fine people.

I wish the same for you.

Love,

Grandma Judy