WHAT’S IN A NAME?
I always thought names were magic. I not only scribbled names under my mother’s angel figurines, but on other objects as well, for instance Billia Bunny Bunnykins for the ceramic Easter rabbit (I know, not terribly clever but I was likely five) and even behind the tusks of our carved teak elephant table – which still bears the marks of Kulia, Telia and Zabo. I can’t remember the name of the fourth leg, as it’s faded away, but I hope it wasn’t Dumbo.
It only stands to reason that names must be of the ultimate importance when you consider that many religious traditions require that the true name of God NOT be spoken. That gives some credence to my belief. And consider the doors and worlds that could be opened just by uttering “Sesame” or “Rumplestiltskin”. Certainly our names tend to define us. Just how far ahead do you think Bernie Swartz or Archibald Leach would have gotten in Hollywood if they had kept their birth monikers?
My father and his next-in-line brother both switched their names about to their liking. This is something I only recently discovered and it was somewhat of a shock to find out that Jennings Palmer Johnson (a good strong name I always thought) had begun life as Palmer Jennings Johnson. And Ernest Clarence Johnson was christened Clarence Ernest Johnson. I don’t know how my grandfather and grandmother felt about this bit of rebellion from their first sons, but I can tell you how it particularly makes a difference of sorts. Uncle Ernie, who was much admired by all the cousins and who cut a dashing figure on the racing circuit as the “Flying Swede” (which bothered him a bit as he was actually Norweigian) was particularly fond of a drink which included two ingredients which had the number 7 in the name. Hence, we kids called it an “Uncle Ernie” and as we have all matured we make it a point to celebrate his memory from time to time and raise our glasses simultaneously in a toast of “Uncle Ernie” (called out with a strong emphasis on the ER, as in ERnie). Somehow I don’t think it would be the same to toast to Uncle Clarence.
Then there is the issue of all the immigrants who were willy-nilly reassigned and that hardly seems fair. It seems important to me to know that one grandfather was in reality Kristoffer Johan Pederssen. And that our true familial name is Johannesen.
Not to mention the fact that I myself received the wrong name at birth. And that is not the fault of the hospital or the official registry. Rather it is because my mother heard a popular song of the day at the last minute and seemed to think the sappy lyrics “…I’m in heaven when I see you smile, smile for me, my Diane” was a good enough reason to switch from the very fine familial name of Kerstin. Kerstin Jonsson was the name of my great grandmother, and Kerstin Bernhardson was a great aunt and Grandma Marie’s sister was Kerstin, although she went by the nickname Kjeshti (not sure of the spelling). I would like to be Kjeshti. I never felt like a Diane. And given the power of names, it is possible that the entire course of my life might have been different had a silly song not intervened.
But I can’t really blame my mother too much for I myself erred as a too-young mother who would have done it all so differently given the chance. There is so much to be said for maturity. In the case of my son, I was impressed by the name Kevin, which at the time was quite unusual, believe it or not. The actor Kevin McCarthy being a lonely example. Same is true for Robert, who named his first son Kevin, also about the same time. So we had two sons with that name. And if I could go back, I most likely would have named him Jennings.
As for Noelle, who WASN’T born at Christmas, it seemed a lovely name at the time. But now, I know for sure, I would have named her Kerstin Marie.