Monday, March 08, 2010

What's In a Name?

Today I learned a lesson about names.

Do you ever wonder how your life, your circumstances, your habits, personality- basically all of the things that make up your reality- would be different if you had a different name? Cara- would you have wound up acting and thinking the same way if your name had been longer? Is ease of pronunciation an aid in getting people to talk to you? What if you had been named "Carolina?" Or Carol?

Christina--aren't you "Chrissy" to some people? And does Chrissy act differently than Christina?

Or Charlie, Steven… we are kindred spirits, I’ll bet. My whole life I have grown up with an ambivalence about my name. No one knew whether I was “Mike” or “Michael.” And consequently, I didn’t know either. I have secretly gotten quite a bit of amusement as I’ve listened to people of my own age group try to avoid making the choice between the two, by calling me “Mr. Stutzman,” “Stutzman,” or, even, rarely, “Mr. Man.” Would a rose called “Steve” or “Charles” smell as sweet?

Of course, I have no answers to these questions, but today this naming business got even weirder for me. Here at work, we have a dry-erase board in our kitchen/conference room and this week’s unspoken, unofficial project has been to write your name and the traditional meaning up there for the office to see.

I went around proclaiming to a few friends that I knew that my name means “He who is like God,” and that no matter how they tried, they shan’t come up with a cooler one than that. And my implication was that, maybe they ought to show me a little respect since I’m like God and all. After all, it’s right there in my name!

(And truly, there have been times in the past when I have literally thought to myself, “I need to try to start living up to my name a little better.)

Well, enter the fact-checker, Lauren. She says, (with a website up at her desk), “Um…this website makes it sound a little different than you said it.” This says it’s like a rhetorical question: ‘Who is like God?’ [Turns out that’s a pretty important question mark at the end.] For the assumption in the Hebrew mind: “no one.” No one is like God.

“Well, shit.” I said, like Dr. Evil in the first Austin Powers movie.


But the more I think about it, the more I like how those ancient Jewish folks thought. Some of my favorite stuff in the Bible is in the Old Testament, the wisdom literature, where G-d is mysterious at times and even belittles the ignorance of his creation. (By the way, anybody else think it’s cool how Jewish folks approach even the name of their creator with reverence and the fear of even writing it all the way out?)

Think of the end of Job. G-d says “Were you here when I made all of this? I created the earth and sky and heavens, the waters, and sea monsters. I don’t remember seeing you here…” That’s my own very scholarly translation by sheer power of memory.

I’m not sure why I like it when humans are put in their place and we discover that our place isn’t as high up as we might have presumed or would have preferred. It’s like watching the First Place Apple Pie baker at the county fair finding out that there is a ribbon even better than the blue ribbon. Turns out there is a .5 or even a Zero place ribbon and it’s a most beautiful color, one like we’ve never even seen before!

All the sad baker can do at that point is sit on the stage and eat their apple pie in humble resignation.

After all, “Who is like God?”

I can live with my name.


At 8:55 PM, Blogger Steven Stark said...

Lovely post.

I think reminding ourselves of our humble spot in the cosmos is exciting - it keeps mystery alive and we remember that we are a part of everything rather than "outside" observers (which we never could be).

Who is like God? Atheists often see this humble view of God as a non-concept, but I love contemplating our inability to contemplate certain things! Christian apologists often create a warped concept of God, misshapen by the need to reconcile omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence, omniscience, timelessness, etc. with human logic. Good luck.

I think our experience is important - the transition from that pure awareness to the world of mental images, words and concepts is necessary, but never completely successful. And that is inspiring.

I think my name means "Crowned one". It doesn't really fit.

At 3:18 PM, Blogger Cara said...

Great post. It is true, I think I may have/would act differently if I had a different name. I've always disliked my name. I still don't like it. My name means "friend" in Greek. I do like that.

I very much enjoyed this post and it's given me much to think about.


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