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Green-card Photo
My Green-card Photo (1949)
I was named after two of my great-grandfathers — my father's maternal grandfather and one of my mother's grandfathers (I know not which one), both of whom were named Chaim (pronounced, and sometimes transliterated into English, as Haim). The name has the same root as the Hebrew word for "life".

But since both my parents had been born in Warsaw (the capital, largest, and most cosmopolitan city in Poland) and Polish was their primary language, they called me by a variety of diminutive endearments derived from the Polish name Henryk. When I was 7 years old, my parents applied for legal immigration to the United States from the American Occupation Zone in West Germany. The name they specified on my application form was Heinrich, the German version of the Polish name Henryk. Thus, the name that appears on my Green Card (Photo ID), which I received upon arrival in America, is Heinrich.

Soon thereafter, my parents gave me the option of Anglicizing my name, which I was definitely interested in doing. There were two possibilities to choose from: Henry and Harry, the latter being derived from the Norman pronunciation of the name Henri, which in turn was the French version of the Anglo-Saxon Henry. I agonized over the choice between Henry and Harry for several weeks. I liked the sound of Henry; but Harry was the name of our then President Truman. Finally, I chose the one that sounded better to me, in part because I was told that I could not become President because I was not a natural-born citizen (I became a naturalized citizen five years later).

About a year after I chose Henry as my new name, my Aunt Irene gave birth to her second son, whom my aunt and uncle decided to name Henry as well. Now there were two Henrys in my extended family. Since I was my cousin Henry's senior by about eight years, my Aunt Irene started calling me TheBigHenry. Not only did she refer to me as TheBigHenry, she actually addressed me as such, as in "Hi TheBigHenry!" And the nickname stuck.

I've had other nicknames in later years. In my high school years my Mom started calling me Hank, perhaps because my best friend was named Hank. Some other friends occasionally called me "Big H". I've also been called worse names, which will remain unmentioned. But my favorite nickname has always been TheBigHenry, always including, as my Aunt Irene originally did, the definite article "The".