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Deny thy father and refuse thy name April 5, 2009

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Family, Life, Chatter & Politics.
Tags: , , , ,

I have been thinking about names today. They are one of the mainstays of modern western society – a label selected perhaps by chance that serves throughout our life as our marker, our definition, that which separates us from the mob that surrounds us. It denotes your family, your beliefs, at a deeper level, your history. At the same time it can be chosen, changed, altered an adapted. You can use it to symbolise your love for someone, or to bring closure to the end of a relationship.

If we look at names more broadly, they are a strange and ancient art. A Eddie Izzard says, would Caesar have been as successful if he had been called Mr Dog? Could Atillathe Hun have been so fearsome if name Alfred the Spotty? Business wise, the name chosen for a business can be it’s greatest selling point (think Apple…) or it’s biggest failure. It can represent in one snappy word all that your company stands for (Virgin…), or can miss the point completely and be the subject of ridicule. In some cultures names can changes as we develop, in others they set out from birth your personality, your rights, your “fate”.

There is much that is good about names, much that would make our society fight to keep them. At the same time, however, names can divide. They can conquer too, but they define groups. Once given a label, groups will separate far more dramatically, will fight more viciously, will compete more determinedly. Once names part of one group, you may find it hard to change, to become something new. That which defines us can restrict us, can hold us back and prevent our potential (oh what a glorious cliche) for being fulfilled.

The child in primary school who never did a thing in class, who was bullied incessantly for their name. The youngster with an unpopular name (think racial stereotypes and more) prevented from certain things because his name isn’t right, perhaps isn’t “british” – regardless of context. Names, most dangerously, have no context.

I feel that as women, names are a fickle creature. We are taught that they are our history, our family, yet are expected to surrender them and all their associations upon marriage – it is a dodgy world full of mixed messages, gender divides, confusing associations. I grew up only knowing my name – but it was a name with both my parents represented – my dad’s surname was my middle name, my mothers surname was mine. I never fully understood how one could give up something one grew up with – was it some form of nominal self sacrifice?

(Image borrowed from here)

Auden described the confusing beauty of names quite wonderfully – Proper names are poetry in the raw, “Like all poetry, they are untranslatable”. Regardless of etymology or interpretations, the literal meaning of our names is irrelevant – do we let them become us, or do we become them? As it is, manly names can change how we are perceived, whereas feminine names like Emma mean we are more expected to be nurses etc (The Name Game).

(Image borrowed from here)

It’s an interesting topic, an interesting debate. A minefieldof treacherous territory for potential mothers and fathers the world over. What a scary, deep and unexplainable topic to try and negotiate, holding in your hands responsibility for the success or failure of your child’s future life! Nothing like overestimating the importance of a name eh? After all, a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet!


1. gildedfolly - April 5, 2009

Very good post!

I know I read somewhere that your initials can have a negative effect if they spell out a word with unpleasant associations. I always wanted a son called William, for example, which was vetoed by my ex as his surname began with ‘C’ (WC = water closet = toilet!) At the same time, while I don’t know the meaning of my own name, I always liked David for its meaning ‘Beloved’, and often refer to my numerous friends by the name of Sarah collectively as my ‘Princesses’.

When I think about the names I would like for my children I think less about their meaning than their flexibility. I like traditional names, but don’t want to shape my child through my choices. So names like Katherine which can become Kathy or Kate, Kitty or Kat, or Harriet (Hatty, Hetty, Harry, Etty…) appeal most…

Oops – essay again! xx

2. mysterycreature1 - April 6, 2009

hehe, essay indeed!

I agree – meaning can be lovely, but really isn’t the be all and end all – after all, my name really means a wreath of Laurel leaves! Flexibility is definately the most important, so their name can effortlessly evolve to fit them perfectly, and can change as they change.


3. gildedfolly - April 6, 2009

I googled.

Caroline comes from Charles in the Latin, Charles meaning “manly” and Caroline therefore “small womanly”.

In French it means “beautiful woman”.

In German it comes from Carl, meaning “joy” or “song of happiness”.


4. sulz - April 7, 2009

interesting thought re names for females after marriage. i would like to get married some day, provided i meet someone i would like to be married to, but the idea of adopting his name alone… i would rather join my surname with his, though being a chinese it might be a rather awkward-sound combination in the end. and the children… oh well, i’m not married yet so not much point thinking about this in my case. 😀

5. mysterycreature1 - April 8, 2009

Cie – Small wonanly woman, who is very happy! It could be worse!! hehe. At least your not names after a tree – and an unpopular tree at that!

Sulz – its an interesting topic isn’t it – I have no idea what I would do if I one day got married. I think I would keep my name, and marriage certificate/ring would be enough for me! The only confusing topic after that is which name the kids have!

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