Romeo and Juliet
In one of Shakespeare’s best known plays, Romeo and Juliet, Juliet tells Romeo that his name is of no consequence, for even if he were called by another name, he will still be the same man that she is attracted to. Intuitively, we can understand that way of thinking. In our minds, for instance, we know that our mother is our mother whether her name is Gertrude, Maria, Ethel or Shania. What is a name then? The dictionary defines name as “a word or phrase that constitutes the distinctive designation of a person or thing.
”There is something, however, about a person’s name that also makes him or her known to us and more real to us. There is an old Latin saying, “Nomen est numen” meaning “to name is to know. ” The act of naming involves not only identification, but it comes with other things that we sense and catalogue in our minds, whether it is appearance, voice, smell and yes, maybe even taste.
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Impressions, ideas, feelings also leave their mark.
When I say “Mary,” I remember at once a next door neighbor who wore her hair long and used to walk her dog every afternoon at 5:00 p. m. with no fail except on Monday afternoons. “Mack” conjures an image of my friend’s funny dad, who would be wearing long sleeved flannel shirts and denims every time I see him. One of the oldest naming practices have been to christen babies following that of their parents, relatives and renowned people. The Bible is possibly the most widely used source for children’s names. Who doesn’t know anyone named Mary or John?
Other common names that have their roots from bible figures include Joshua, Matthew, Mark, Elizabeth, Rebecca, among others. Parents, especially nowadays, however, give more importance to the meaning of their children’s names as can be seen by the vast number of books and web sites dedicated to baby names and such. When I tried looking up the meaning of my nickname, Keshia, in the internet, I was surprised to see different meanings. One web site noted that Keshia meant cassia tree, cinnamon and that its biblical context origin was Hebrew.
Kezia (of which Keshia is a derivation) was the second of the three daughters of Job and she was reputed to be among the most beautiful women in the land. Another website however, claimed that Keshia was of American origin and that it is a modern name. It is also quite “possibly a short form of Lakeisha, which is probably from ‘Aisha’ which is Arabic for ‘alive and well. ’ While I liked both meanings, I am more attracted to the second. It has a nice ring to it – I, Keshia, am alive and well. Shantae, my first name is more uncommon than Keshia.
But, I was able to find two meanings as well. One noted that Shantae, was a pet form of Chantal, which comes “from a French surname derived from a place meaning ‘stony place’ and it has become associated with the French word chant song. The other noted that Shantae meant “beautiful woman filling with her beauty” and the site indicated that its origin was African. The second meaning is much more applicable to me. My mom, who named me, assures me that this second meaning was part of the reason she gave me that name.
Shannel, my middle name, proved to be more of a challenge and I was only able to locate one meaning for it. The entry was actually for Shannelle, of which my name is possibly one of the derivations and it meant ‘channel’. But because the channel denotes water, then I have no cause for complain since it is one of the most essential elements there are. The name was one that appealed to my mother though she could not recall exactly why. The U. S. Social Security’s Office of the Chief Actuary publishes an annual list of the most popular names given girls and boys at birth.
In 2004, the top 10 girls’ names were Emily, Emma, Madison, Olivia, Hannah, Abigail, Isabella, Ashley, Samantha and Elizabeth while for the boys it was Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, Ethan, Andrew, Daniel, William, Joseph and Christopher. They also had data from the year 1880 and top boys’ names for that year were John, William, Charles, George, James, Joseph, Frank, Henry, Thomas and Harry. For girls, the following topped the list in 1880: Mary, Anna, Elizabeth, Margaret, Minnie, Emma, Martha, Alice, Marie, with Annie and Sarah tying for the 10th spot.
William, Emma and Elizabeth remain popular names even after a century and though the others that were popular during 1880 did not make it to the top 10 in 2004, they are still widely used even now. Emily, the most popular girl’s name in the United States is “the English form of the Latin gens name Aemilia meaning ‘rival’: originally ‘those in the next valley,’ and therefore the root is the same as for ‘emulate. ’” It has a variant in other languages such as French: Emilie, German: Emilie, Italian: Emilia, Japanese: ???
[Emiri], Portuguese: Emilia, Spanish: Emilia according to Wikipedia Jacob, the most popular name for boys has biblical roots. As Uittenbogaard notes, he was supposedly born holding on to his brother Esau’s heel and he was named for this. Nouns related to this verb and are most often spelled in the same manner include heel, hoof, footstep and deceitful. Thetford, my family name, is a market town in England. It existed even during the Anglo-Saxon times under this name and the town has such a history, having been the home of the monarchs of East Anglia.
It is not too far off to consider that my ancestors came from Thetford, though I am not quite certain of it. The practice of using the town where one lived as an identifier is an old one alongside that of using one’s profession or a person’s distinctive characteristic. There was Jesus of Nazareth and his father was Joseph the Carpenter and King Richard the Lionheart. The current practice of having a family name evolved from these kinds of identifiers, with last names now denoting the one’s family and ancestry.
Wikipedia notes that “the use of family names is not universal throughout history. In parts of the world, they did not appear in common use until the 17th to 19th centuries, and in some cultures they are not used today. In many cultures of Asia, as well as in Hungary, the family name is typically spoken or written first when referring to an individual (see eastern order), while in most Western cultures, the family name is last, giving rise to the term last name for family name” and that “the use of family names varies among cultures.
In particular, Icelanders, Tibetans, Burmese, and Javanese often do not use a family name — well-known people lacking a family name include U Thant (Burmese), Suharto and Sukarno (see Indonesian names). Also, many royal families do not use family names. ” Names are very helpful in establishing identities, but we must always bear in mind that just a name does not define us. We are very different and special individuals even though we may share the same name as other people, but we have the power and the choice of living up to a name or even surpassing it if it is good and rising above it when it isn’t.
• Campbell, M. Behindthename. com home page. 15 Aug 2006. <http://www. behindthename. com/nmc/eng_13. php> • “Emily. ” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 9 Aug 2006, 20:13 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 15 Aug 2006 <http://en. wikipedia. org/w/index. php? title=Emily&oldid=68679222>. • “Family name. ” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 15 Aug 2006, 08:08 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 15 Aug 2006 <http://en. wikipedia. org/w/index. php? title=Family_name&oldid=69759202>. • “Keshia. ” Biblical-Baby-Names. com home page. 15 Aug 2006. <http://www. biblical-baby-names. com/meaning-of-keshia. html>