Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What's In a Name?

Not a whole hell of a lot if you ask me.

So I'm back in school and the class I'm taking this semester is Speech. *boohissspit* I have a problem with standing up in front of groups and speaking. I don't know why, I'm just not comfortable with it. If I could speak from my desk or something, or just have it be people that I know, I'd be fine. But once I'm up in front of the group and everyone is looking at me I feel *judged* or like they're all just waiting for me to shut up.

Unfortunately, my class last Tuesday was cancelled due to the professor being in an accident. She's fine, don't worry. So I haven't had to actually give any speeches yet. The first speech is due tonight and it's supposed to be about the meanings of our names.

All well and good, I have no problem with looking up the meaning of the words that make up my name and talking about them. Well, the talking thing, but that's less about the name and more about all the people watching me! My 'problem', such as it is, is with part of the instructions for the assignment. Here, let me share:

"This is a 2-3 minute speech designed to acquaint you with your classmates. Select one aspect about yourself to share with your audience. You will give a speech on the meaning of your name. You should research both your first and last name, but you may include your middle name. You should cite at least one source for the meaning of your name. Build the speech around a theme. For example, you could focus upon a personal goal, activity, or quality you possess. Give the listeners sufficient information to help them remember who you are and what you are about."

So essentially my professor wants us to tie our names into some aspect of ourselves. Our personality, goals, etc. Something. My issue is this: My name has nothing to do with who I am as a person. My name is an accident of birth, of other peoples' choices. I had nothing to do with it. It doesn't reflect *me*, it's just the individual label that people use to differentiate the consciousness/body that I am from all the other consciousness/bodies that they know.

I find it...annoying? Maybe even insulting, that some people have this expectation that your name makes up a part of your internal identity. As if the meaning of your name, something that could be thousands of years old, touches the core of your soul and changes it somehow. It doesn't. My mother chose my name, and she chose it because 'it was pretty'. My middle name(s) are nearly a family tradition. They would have been traditional, except that they sounded strange with my first name. And my last name is just the name of the asshat who married my mother and adopted me. It doesn't *mean* anything to me and it certainly doesn't reflect my personality or my goals. It doesn't even reflect my heritage or my genetics. It's little more, at this point, than a scar that I bear, something I care so little about I can't be bothered to change it.

If we were a culture that allowed children to choose their own names as they entered adulthood, I think it would be different. At least in my mind. Then we could say, well what does your name mean about you? Why did you choose it? What part of yourself did you want to celebrate or emphasize?

But we're not. We're left with the names that our parents give us, for the most part. (Some people do change their names as adults and in those cases I do feel that the question is a valid one. What was it about that name that resonated with their self-identity?)

So lets run down my name, just as an example of how little the meanings of the words actually *mean* to me as a person.

Amber: from the Arabic 'anbar. Brought back by Crusaders, the word was originally used to refer to both ambergris (whale vomit) and the semi-precious stones. Do you know what amber is? It's petrified tree sap. I mean it's pretty, yes, and I think the pieces that have insects preserved in them are incredible but what on earth does that have to do with me? Am I about to be responsible for the cloning of dinosaurs? I think not. Or maybe I hope so. It might be kind of cool.

Dawn: Old English. A way to refer to the rising of the sun in the morning. Fairly self explanatory. Chosen by my mother because I was born near dawn and the 'family' name of 'Ann' sounded weird after 'Amber'.

Marie: French/German version of Mary, which is a version of Mariam, which is a version of Myriam which is Hebrew. Family name. There are plenty of Marie/Mary/Miriam/M---'s in history that are famous or infamous. I think most people, if you say the name Marie/Mary, think of the virgin Mary, but that may just be my own cultural prejudice sneaking in. Nonetheless, I am not particularly virginal or saintly.

Last Name *redacted for paranoia*: You'll just have to trust me when I say that it means nothing more than 'someone born not a serf'. Which, back in the day, was a pretty swanky place to be. Not rich or royal, but not a slave. Still...*shrugs*. What does that mean to me? To my actual identity? Nothing that I can tell. Being born 'not a slave' is less of a special circumstance in most of the world than it used to be.

My grandparents' last name at least gives homage to our ancestry, Kuchta, being a German/Czech/Polish name. Of course it just translates to someone who worked in the kitchen. I don't cook.

Or my last name at birth, McPeak. "Northern Irish: Anglicized form of Gaelic Mac Péice, a patronymic from the personal name Péic, which Woulfe links to Old English Pic (see Pike 5), although MacLysaght derives it from Old English peac ‘thickset man’." So...someone who lives near a peak (a hill with a pointy top) or a thickset man. *glances at waist* Okay, I'll give you that one. But again, it has nothing to do with who I *am* as a human being.

If I was going to name myself, which I'm not because I like my name even if I don't think it has any deeper meaning for me, I would name myself Josephine or Josephina, for my grandfather. Because that would have meaning for me. It would be something that I could tie into my goals, my hopes for myself as a person. 

I've mentioned it, once or twice to people I know and their reaction is always, 'But you don't look like/you're not a Josephine.' No, I'm not. Because you think of me as an 'Amber', but that's only on the outside. If I changed my name, you'd get used to thinking of me as a Josephine.


  1. The assignment is not well thought out at all. I find it frustrating too but you'll have to just make sure to meet all the requirements of the teacher's assignment even if it doesn't make much sense. I'd just start with "My name is Amber and it means this from this source but it doesn't have much to do with who I am. I'm a ________" and just go on describing yourself. Reading your assignment it seems like the main goal is for people to get to know each other so I'm sure the teacher would prefer you focus most on who you are than the name itself. She probably just threw that in to make it more assignment-like.

    1. I'm thinking it was also partially an attempt to see where we were with our capabilities and to see what she'd need to work on. I gave the speech and I feel like I did okay, though I did throw in at the end that I thought the whole 'your name means something about you' thing was about as accurate as daily horoscopes. :P We had one guy who went into the numerology behind his name like it was some sort of revelation. *sigh*

  2. Oh, I was going to ask how the speech went and see your comment to Candice. I'm glad you got in the bit about names not meaning a whole lot, but LOL @ the guy who went into numerology! Ha!

    I loved this post. It was interesting reading about your names and what they mean. And I liked your family names and your glance at your waist...you are so funny!

    Thanks for sharing this!

    1. The weirdest part about the numerology thing was that he seems like a very down to earth guy otherwise. Of course who am I to judge? :) I just shook my head (internally).

      One thing I didn't include in the post, because I didn't know it yet, was that Miriam/etc. can mean bitter or rebellious. I did include that in my speech. :)

  3. Hurray, you're finished with it! :) I'm glad it went ok.

    I think it's very interesting to learn about names, but I agree they don't have much to do with personality. I've never liked my name and don't think it suits me at all. The only reason I haven't changed it is because it's how everyone knows me and I figure if I changed it they would keep calling me by my birth name anyway. Might as well just deal with it.

    Thanks for telling us about your names!

    1. I think names can tell you a lot more about the parents of a child than the child itself. After all, they're the ones who chose the name, they're the ones to whom it presumably has some meaning.

      I like my name, personally, even though I'm not the personality that most people picture when they hear the name 'Amber'. :p My mother would actually like me to change my last name to match her husbands' last name (and my sister is in the process of changing hers to my mothers' maiden name) but for me it just seems like a lot of hassle for something that doesn't *mean anything*.

      Maybe you could start introducing yourself by a nickname? That way you can at least train new people to a name you like. :)


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