Yes, up late again. Really baby needs to learn to sleep.
So, I’ve been pondering the meaning of names lately. Not the sort of meanings you find in a baby name book or find nicely framed at a mall kiosk, but the real meaning. The deep whys. (well, about as deep as I get anyway.)
In the west we name our children according to sound. It’s the feel of the name on the tongue, the cadence across the ear that draws us to the names we give our babies. There is some pretence at meaning; mothers who search baby books for the fake meanings the publishers have adopted so all names sound good. All gifts, blessings, and royalty. Deep under the sound we have associated certain sounds with certain things. K’s are strong, long E’s are feminine. Sounds go through fads as much as color or fabric. B’s and N’s, J’s and Y’s, they all have children carefully grouped on elementary school rolls all together because their mothers all liked the same sound textures on their tongues, half of whom have their names jumbled and spelled creatively so they can be the only Jordyn in class and end up being one of five.
I can trace most of my children’s names to the Hebrew meanings, but it doesn’t make their names more authentic. I don’t speak Hebrew. My ancestors have not spoken it for eons if they ever did. So the words mean nothing really, a simple definition on the page in the bible. It’s told to me; I don’t know it. It’s not part of my being the way I understand the meaning of “apple.”
A celebrity named her daughter Apple. Little Apple ought to be turning a year now. I remember the surprise and the buzz she created with her creatively ordinary name. I hated it. It’s not a name; it’s a word, a thing. But why not Apple? What is an apple? Round, juicy, the symbol of health and vigor, a sign of sexuality, of taste, of humility and plenty, a good word. A hard name to accept, because in Western culture, it’s not a name.
A name can’t be a word . . . unless you come from Asia.
I had friends in college who were from Taiwan and Hong Kong. They had Chinese names but very few went by those names. They would choose American names to go by, Amy, Dianna, John, traditional names that have lost all meaning beyond their shape. Yet their Chinese names have meaning. They are part of the language. Their true names mean something beyond the sound of the word; it means something other than the person who wears the name, giving it power and connection to the language itself. A woman is not just Hua, she is a flower, fragrant and beautiful.
I suppose in a way, I might be jealous of this connection. My name has always been so ordinary, so common. I tuned it out as a teenager because when I did hear my name called, it was not me being paged. Since then there has been a small sense of disconnection to my name, as if it wasn’t fully mine. I have slowly gathered it back to myself, but there are moments when it still rings just a bit false in my ears.
Suddenly, I’m wondering where I am going with this. I don’t know. At one am when the house is quiet, my mind is free to wander, so it does. Maybe all I’m trying to say is I’ve read a little too much Ursula Le Guin lately. I’m too caught up in Earthsea, yearning for my true name.
Or maybe I’ve just stayed up too late and I should go to bed with my little girl who’s name means beautiful according to my heart.