This age-old adage has been thrown around a lot throughout the centuries, and yet it remained to be just the rhetorical query that it is. However, in the realm of the growing trend of digging up family trees through genealogical tracing, it would seem that this interrogative statement has come to prove to have a more profound significance than most would ever care to consider.
In dealing with the question of the significance of names, it is most basic to recognize its function in a societal context.
The most practical function of it in any given community is that of identification.
The name attached to the subject, be it a person, animal or thing, allows for recognition as to the existence of said subject – imaginatively or factually. This paper, however, is only interested in the significance of names, particularly in the context of families or genealogical histories, and the effects of its influence on one’s identity.
It will not attempt to delve into the many possible motives behind an individual’s pursuit for knowledge as to the identities of his or her ancestry, but rather, will try to examine the resulting consequences of such quest for familial knowledge, and its effects, if any.
As mentioned earlier, the social function of names is to provide recognition, to allow for an organization in a construct as complex as communities and societies. Familial names, especially, work as a kind of branding, not merely on objects or properties, but on real people. It clusters them together, connoting their connection either by blood or by law, and it is in these connections that the innate curiosity as to just how common are the traits of individuals from the same clusters – families – truly are. For purposes of discussion, this paper shall argue that identities have two sides to it, just like any other story.
One would be the nominal identity while the other would be the personal identity. Nominal identity can be taken as that affiliation attached to a person based on his or her name, the clustering mechanism of society thus coming into play. Personal identity, on the other hand, is – for lack of a more succinct term – personal, or that which is innate and exclusive to the character of the person. While these two types of identities appear to be two distinct ideas, it will be shown how they essentially lead towards one path, which is that of the shaping of the individual.
Now, nominal identities, or in its simplest form names, allow members of society to determine who is related to whom. More than the given name of an individual, it is the surname that provides for that branding that puts the individual into a certain group. But although it would seem as if the use of names is practical at best, truth is that name affiliations do hold great significance in the affairs of the individuals carrying it. For one, it is the name that carries the family pride. It is not strange for us to hear of stories about people going to great lengths to protect the family name because the family pride is at stake.
This protection of reputation is an object of obsession for some, especially those who have great family histories. Probably what can best describe this obsession with family names and its protection is another classic saying, that is, “the fruit never falls far from the tree. ” Or in this case, the family tree. Taking that quote squarely within the context of this paper, the fruits would be the members of the family, while the tree would be the whole lineage taken holistically. Why then would people want to ensure that their names or surnames are well-protected and untainted from less-than-reputable accounts?
To ensure that they remain in good company, or at least an impression of it, that’s why. Because as the saying would show, name affiliation does not merely end with sharing a name; people coming from the same family tree most likely share common traits as well. Therefore the presumption is that people sharing the same name, and thereby the same genetic strands, are more or less sharing the same personality or character traits. That is why in character assassination, it is most common to first attack the identity of the person not based on things that he or she has done in their lifetime but based on the name they carry.
Since human interaction doesn’t always happen face to face, it is then up to the name to represent the individual, and thus hopefully give a good first impression. Take for example the case of the Uruguayan Hitlers. In Leonardo Haberkorn’s article, “The Hitler Dynasty,” he delved into the existence of persons living in Uruguay carrying the name Hitler, and the corresponding effects it has on those carrying the said name. Without a doubt, the name arouses a very strong, negative image, thanks fully to the man responsible for the Jews’ ethnic cleansing more than half a century ago, German dictator Adolf Hitler.
While the Hitlers of Uruguay obviously has no connection or affiliation with the Aryan Hitler, by virtue of the name and the character of the personality it has come to solely represent, the stigma is thereby passed on to them. This stigma is still largely felt by some of those carrying the name, although a couple would claim that they do not mind having Hitler for a second name despite knowing the transgressions the “original” Hitler committed since they do not have anything to do with that anyway (Haberkorn).
They are just namesakes, plain, and simple. However this outlook, while positive, is frail at best. Because in this case, the bias is against the name first, and then the person, and so as names are the gateway, so to speak, to knowing a person, having a name that elicits such pre-established biases already blocks the way for others to at least want to get to know the person carrying that name.
In fact, most of these individuals do understand the repercussions of outright using their Hitler names, and so have refused to use it for any official documents or even in casual conversations. We need not look far, actually. Even in the ongoing campaign for the United States Presidential Elections, these same biases and prejudices attached to names do play its role out – and this following observation is absolutely devoid of any political biases.
Democratic candidate Barack Obama has the misfortune of carrying “Hussein” for his middle name. While he certainly had no say as to what name will be given him when he was born, and while “Hussein” carried no significant negative perception until recent history, opponents from the rival party saw how they can take this fact and turn it into an opportunity for themselves with the goal of discrediting Obama as a candidate worthy of inheriting the coveted office in the White House.
Introductions would be made at rallies, and the hosts of the event would have no qualms of stressing the “Hussein” part in Obama’s name, with the obvious intention of linking him with the fallen Iraqi dictator. Of course, we know he is not related in any way to Saddam as Hussein in his name stands as a surname, while Obama’s is a secondary name. But regardless of this logical view, what remains true is that there is an attached stigma to Hussein, that which is of a leader of a rogue nation once recognized as a threat to America and its people’s security.
If that is not the stigma, then it is that Obama, given his un-American sounding name, is therefore un-American. Here we saw two examples of individuals who share the same name with two historical figures condemned by the international community at large because of the atrocities they have committed to their own people, and so to all of humanity. They’re not even related yet, and already we see how grave the repercussions can be to those who share the same name; what more if they truly are affiliated by blood or by law.
The other type of identity is the personal one, and this would probably have to do more with a person’s quest for seeking out his or her genealogy out of a sense of curiosity as to who they really are. Thanks to technology made even more accessible today, more and more people have taken on playing detectives in search of long-lost relatives, distant or proximate. It has evolved into a personal crusade that is a far cry from the scholarly origins of genealogical tracing.
With DNA testing kits costing a fraction of its cost some several years ago at under a hundred dollars (Harmon), the layman has then become bolder in launching in this historical adventure themselves. “Stalking Strangers” (Harmon) from the New York Times depicted the great lengths that people would go to just to get their hands on DNA samples of their suspected relatives.
Of course, questions of privacy necessarily arise from these scenarios, but insofar as satiating the thirst for confirmation whether or not the guy who you just ordered coffee from is a relative kicks in much stronger than the concern for his privacy.
Again, as mentioned earlier, this paper will not even attempt to delve into what could be the motivating reason behind this newfound interest in tracing one’s family tree. What is inevitable, however, is to look into what could these “amateur” Sherlock Holmeses of genealogical tracing could possibly get from all this exercise. Well, it seems that it’s quite a lot – not in quantity but in quality. Chip Rowe, in his blog entry, listed out the things that he hates and loves about researching his family tree.
The things he hates most are concerned with the tedious process of gathering data, as well as unearthing less than flattering family stories. The things he loves, however, basically sum up the “good” effect said researching can do for one’s personal identity. He speaks of getting “a sense of the people” who formed us, thereby adding insight to how or why an individual turns out the way he does. This essentially reiterates the importance of knowing the past in order for one to truly understand and appreciate the present, so that he can prepare for the future.
While it is probably highly unlikely that newly discovered relatives would even want to rekindle whatever lost relationship they could have had, the important thing is for the searcher to find this sense of peace and comfort in knowing that he does belong to a family, that he is not alone after all. Says Rowe, “When you discover and meet a long-lost cousin, you realize you could have passed her on the street or flipped him off at a traffic light and not even realized they were family. ” This mystery is what further entices these people out on a DNA-hunt to continue their search for family.
Essentially, what this all boils down to is another old wise-saying: no man is an island. That is why in every opportunity, people will attempt to find out, or at least be curious about, the answer to the mystery of their identities. Because it is in this discovery that persons are given a motivation to improve themselves, either out of the feeling of necessity to break away from a stigma attached to their names or out of a sense of fulfillment in knowing that somewhere out there, they remain to have family amidst the throng of strangers.
What is in a name? Does a name serve any importance in representing a person? Three letters and one-syllable make up my name. Which part of me does that represent? I believe that a person’s name does not partake in their identity or character. It is just a form of reference, given to a person at the time of their birth.
Carla is the first name given to me by my parents. It holds no particular sentiment to them or to me. Because of the repetition of its use over time, it seemingly belongs to me. It is only time and reiteration that creates familiarity with one?s names.
Hence, if I changed my name, it would cause a lot of difficulty with those around me because they are already familiar with the name Carla. If it did not cause inconvenience though, I would change my name to Jade. I prefer short, unique names as opposed to common names. Jade matches these qualities.
The meanings of people?s names though are irrelevant to their self and persona. One of the main reasons why I think that a name does not represent a person is because a name is chosen by the parents at the time of a baby?s birth. We do not even select our own names and therefore no part of our name is connected to us. In order for a name to portray an element of a person’s guise, that name must be chosen by the person who bears it. In this fashion, personality can be conveyed.
If this were the case though, our names would change with every shift of our beliefs and hobbies. So, it is better to just take the name that you are given because in time it will curve to suit you through recurrence and familiarity. Your name is not who you are; it takes no part in your identity. All the words ever to exist couldn?t contain the smallest fraction of one?s self, least of all one word?
When the term ‘name’ comes into mind, there are several other issues that come into thinking. One is the existence of reputation and another is the entity or identity that one tends to embrace especially in the context of determining one’s role in relation to the name that has been given to him. As a person is born into the world, the parents and/or guardians usually spend a relative span of time thinking about what specific name they would give the newborn child.
Notably, such a condition of thinking entails the desire of the people surrounding the family that makes up a child’s circle to define the personality or at least make a distinct identification for the individual that they want the child to grow into. Nevertheless, the family members know that they cannot direct the child’s life fully no matter how much they want to. Their desires would remain as dreams; something that can be true or at some point denied given the circumstances that they are involved in.
Question is, how important is it for a child to have the right name? Parents often decide on what to name their child based on the different contexts of understanding the being of their child. For instance, there are parents who are specifically religious; hence, as a result, their infants copy biblical names such as Ruth or Mark or other names that follow identities of biblical characters. Others who may have a direct inkling to entertainment and popular culture may choose to name their children after famous individuals who have made a mark in the industry.
Parents who are specifically involved in their familial lineage usually follow the pattern of the names of particular family members. They usually think of giving the family’s honor to their newly born children, allowing them to carry an important lineage that they think is highly important in determining their familial reputation. This is the reason why it is very obvious that there are some names that are considered extremely common in particular cultures and races.
In the long run, it would be the child who would determine the value of his name for himself. Considerably, the determination of a person to keep a good name goes beyond just living within the limits of his own given name. Most likely, it could be understood that every person is different from another; nevertheless, the name that they follow specifically gives them an option of whether or not to follow the pattern of life that the ones they have followed the lead.
For instance, if one is named Ruth, there is a connotation that that woman would become as loyal as did Ruth proved to be with Naomi [as noted in the common and famous account of her life in the Bible]. This is why there are instances when a person having such a name and cannot live by the standards of the personality it suggests are being asked ‘why are you like that? You even have that name’. Beyond one’s personal identity, a particularly given name to a person determines the pattern of living that one is given the chance to take.
It is a usual pattern for parents to take note of the hopes they have on the development of their children and how they are likely to mature into responsible individuals. Nevertheless, such hopes could only be proven futile if the children themselves see the importance of their identity in relation to how they personally develop as individuals. All the parents could do is to make sure that their children would be guided accordingly and given the chance to enjoy the life that they hoped for them to embrace.
Another concept of consideration that parents take into account is the condition by which they define the gender of their children.
There are instances when the name ‘Alex’ is given to a girl. Such a name is traditionally considered as somewhat masculine, nevertheless, through time, the interchange of gender roles in the society has already changed the vision of parents as to how they would name their children according to their gender and the character that comes along with such identity. For instance, a girl named Alex is often expected to grow up to be a brave individual, a person who knows how to deal with life’s trials and distinct troubles that aim to develop one’s capacity to face the option of success and victory in the end. Would a person actually be able to contend with such expectations? Only she could decide upon such matters.
There are some individuals who are overly concerned about their names, while some others are simply not concerned enough about the matter. To set a comparison among these individuals and know more about how much they value their names, it is important to give attention to how they actually think about the matter. To examine the situation, an interview has been set accordingly. Three individuals were asked about their names and how they envisioned themselves having such identities tied into their being. One of them is a 12-year-old girl named Alpha. When asked what her name meant, she said ‘the beginning’. She mentioned how her parents saw her as the beginning of their new lives.
Being a child born out of wedlock, she mentions how much her parents’ lives changed and how they talk about it with her helping her understand that even though their lives have changed at the time that she was born, they knew it would be changed for the better cause. When asked how she reacted to such deep meaning, she said that she did not know so much about its meaning until she reached the age of 11 when they discussed in school about the basics of family planning. She mentioned how this particular lesson in class allowed her to see things differently and to accept the fact that she is the ‘hope’ that her parents needed at the time.
She was the reason why they are together and she hopes to be the reason why her parents would grow old together. It is because of this name that she has garnered a personal understanding of the real value that she serves in the family for her parents and for herself. Because of this, she wanted to prove herself, to be the hope that her parents actually need her to be.
The other individual asked was Chelsea, a 21-year-old senior college student who traveled from China towards the States to study. The name Chelsea is what she calls her ‘international name’. Her original Chinese name is Jingfei which means ‘not quiet’. She says that her name was a patterned name from her grandmother’s grandmother towards her generation. All of them had the name ‘Jing’ as the first syllables. Her parents made sure that such an identity is passed on to her as a mark of her being part of the family. Such a name made her think of herself to have belonged to her family ever since her childhood; it meant a sense of thread that connects her with her great ancestors.
She further adds that it meant so much to get such an honor to be named after her great grandparents; it seemed to be an honorable sense of identity for her. The name Chelsea on the other hand was a personal choice of Jingfei. It has been a culture among Asians, particularly Koreans and Chinese individuals to carry on a different international name when they get out of the country. She mentions that they take such an option of changing their names so that others may not have a hard time pronouncing their names.
When asked why she chose the name Chelsea, she said it was from an American film she once watched in the past when she was just a child. She loved the female character so much that she took her name and made it her own as she comes into the nation of the white people. She said how it made it easier for her to adjust to the culture of the Americans and become a part of the thriving community that she wanted to be enjoined with.
The last interviewee was Rudolf Valentine. He is a 56-year-old accountant working for a law firm in the city and is considered to be one of the best performers in his company. He smiles whenever somewhat asks of his name and simply answers ‘you can call me Rod’. He said that when it comes to his name, he spent years battling with the idea that he is a red-nosed reindeer with a matching bow and arrow and small wings that carried him out to hunt for lovers at Christmas. It was completely ridiculous, but he accepted the fact that this was the name he needed to contend with.
Children, during his elementary days, cannot keep off from teasing him and calling him names. He said he survived such an era and learned how to deal with the matter in a much positive manner. Instead of getting pissed off with what others imply on him about his name, he learned to laugh matters out and simply make relative comments that would make it easier for him to relate to what others think of his name.
In relation to the discussion points presented in this paper and the experiences presented through the interviews, it could be understood that a name is something that cannot be simply set aside. It needs to be recognized along with the worth that it carries for the one owning it. A person may be given the worst name but could still flourish to be a better individual whose existence could be celebrated by those surrounding him and those who are directly involved with him.
True, a person may be given different names, but it is he who would identify the value of such identity towards the individual that he becomes in the future.
The personality that one develops through time is what is considered important in the process of making a name. The decision of a person to be good or bad, to be productive or not, to be worthy of being called a good person, would be the basis of noting whether or not such a person has a good name. In a way, parents may give their children whatever name they may want to give them. In the end, it is their teaching and their guidance that would determine the real worth of such a name in the lives of their children.
No one can ever control another, especially in making a name that is capable of defining one’s being and one’s worth as a person. Hence, given the chance to prove one’s self, it is suggested that one take the option of making a name and not changing one’s identity just so to be accepted by the society that he or she is living in.
The essay entitled What’s in a Name written by Itabari Njeri clearly proffered various experiences encountered by the author associated with her interaction with diverse people specifically interested in the etymology of one’s name. According to The Name Site (2010), “your name is your identity and a window on your culture and self. Your name links you with your past, your ancestors, and is a part of your spirituality” (par. 1). Using this as a framework, the author defined culture based on the perceptions, views, and collective information of reactions towards her distinct and unique name.
Njeri defined culture as a symbolic collaboration of symbols, literature, arts, identity through nomenclature, generally developed through color and name. When Njeri averred that what does it really mean to be called African-American, she had a conundrum of issues starting with terms such as “Black”, “Afro-American” used interchangeably and identified by color.
Culture is also seen by Njeri as symbolic communication relayed through various media such as television shows, cables, movies, of which various peoples from all walks of life and from different generations have reacted and responded positively. References to Liz Taylor, who portrayed Cleopatra, Eddie Murphy as an African prince, as a medium of communication which disseminated traditions perceived and expressed differently through the eyes of other cultures.
The messages relayed generated stereotypes of Blacks as “low-down, ignorant, drug-dealing, and murderous” people depicted in American movies. The information disseminated in films is retained in the minds of contemporary people and future decisions in terms of marriage, in particular, have been based on them.
The author’s experiences as she has traveled in different places around the world confirmed her contention that culture is partially determined by the name given to a person. The name spells one’s identity and opens typified beliefs that had been developed through time in the minds of the people she meets. The historical background of the origins of giving names to children is ingrained in the cultural values of people. In China, for example, “the history of the family name dates back to the matriarchal clan society, which is 5000 to 6000 years ago” (China Corner, par. 1).
Other cultures have distinct and unique reasons for naming their children the way they do. The influence and impact of other cultures on a traditional nomenclature. The effect of mixed marriages significantly altered historical names and provided the impetus to acquire new names based on external factors made famous by more advanced mediums of communication.
What really is in a name? Aside from giving one a sense of identity, names reveal patterns of traditions, way of life, a system of knowledge shared by a group of people, transmitted from one generation to another. As Njeri concluded, sometimes, even without mention of one’s name, other people who are sensitive to cultural orientations would have the innate capacity to assess which culture one belongs to. By looking at one’s physical appearance and by exuding a particular air or distinct manner, culture is revealed and lived, for other people to share and experience.
Example #5 – How to start?
“What’s in a name? That by which we call a rose, would smell as sweet by any other name” is a famous quote in the Romeo and Juliet drama by Shakespeare. So, what is Juliet trying to mean here? If u change the name of a rose, it would have the same characteristics it had before the name was changed, likewise, if u change the name of a person his qualities will never change. He will still be the person he was.
Shakespearean line: ‘ what’s in a name, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. A person not doing homework is named a poor student– or named dead meat. Still, means didn’t get a good grade because didn’t do homework until the last minute. But if you want to link ‘name’ essay to current events- refer to the politician’s name-calling. ‘Appeaser’ name or ‘diplomat’ name? What is in a name is often what the sayer of the name wants to give the impression of, especially if the sayer is a known liar like Al Gore.
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