Friday, May 1, 2009

What's in a name?

When my eldest was in 5th grade, we went to open house night at his school and took part in a surprising little icebreaker, the effects of which amaze me still today.

The classroom, the whole school for that matter, was a hot dish (Minnesota for casserole) of children of old hippies, mixed-race couples, refugees from Laos, and families for whom Spanish was their native tongue. As a whole, we parents had little in common, though our kids were quite familiar with each others' likes, dislikes, eccentricities, good and not-so good traits, and attendance habits.


Their teacher, who I will admire till the day I die, knew how to mix things up with these kids, how to level the playing field, and how to teach them to affirm the best in each other.

So on this evening of cookies and lemonade and have-a-look-at-your-kids' room time, she gave us a taste of how its done. Simply. Gently. Profoundly.

She had us all sit on the circle-time carpet and quiet ourselves. Then she asked each of us, parent and child, to take turns telling the story of how we got our names. I expected a quick dash around the circle and then we'd be on our way. But that was not the case.

Instead, one by one, as if we were lazily sitting around a campfire, we reached back into our memories and called forth tales of our forebears, flora and fauna from our homelands, legendary musicians, artists, and writers, people of great integrity and no fame, and, in my case, a swashbuckler actor from the 50s.

Without exception, each child knew the background of her or his name, and could tell the story, some with flourish, others with shyness. Even the parents who barely spoke English managed to tell their stories using a few known words, hand gestures, nervous laughter, and with a little help from their grinning kids.

The evening left me feeling happily connected to these people, at least for that moment, and to my own family's quirkiness.

Apparently, my father knew long before he had a daughter that he would name her Kathleen. For inspiration for my middle name, my mother looked to her film star sweetheart, Tyrone Power, whose daughter goes by Taryn. 

And so I ask you: How did you get your name?

Image by J.P. Silva
Image 1 by uzvards
Image 2 from wikipedia

5 comments:

Gaston Studio said...

How brilliant of the teacher; we need more like her!

How romantic, the story of how you got your name. Mine is the two name of my grandmothers and I've often wondered why my parents chose to call me by my second name as opposed to the first, but they never told me.

Pyzahn said...

That was a wonderful mixing exercise. I would have never thought of it.

You know, I don't know how my parents picked my name. I only know I was Judy for a heartbeat. My mother's heritage is quite a blend of Dutch, native American, German. My Dad (Armando) was,surprise, all Italian. How I got to be Patricia and my brother, Gerald, is a mystery. I will ask her this weekend.

My mom's name is Kathleen, also.

p.s. I think Tyrone Power was just the most handsome of the old time movie stars. Your mother had great taste.

Rudee said...

As my grandmother Irma was set on naming me after her and was on her way to the hospital to demand this, my father named me after his favorite biblical story. Ruth. My sister had the same problem and was named Marilyn, my father's favorite star of the moment. At least that was my father's version of events.

Erin Davis said...

At first I was going to be Sheila Margaret. I come from a big Irish Catholic family, so an Irish name is a given. Shortly before I was born, my parents changed it to Erin, which means "Ireland," Kathleen. Kathleen is my mom's mom's name. I have an aunt Kathleen (Kathy), a cousin Kathleen, and a cousin Mary Kathleen (Katie). My name makes me feel very connected to the women in my family and to my heritage.

What a wonderful 5th grade teacher! How great to experience something so profound at open house night.

Joanna said...

What a wonderful idea to ask people for the story of their names. I was named Joan Elizabeth and the joke was that my parents took the CPR boats to visit family in Victoria when they had a weekend together. There were two of these overnight boats with staterooms--the Princess Joan and the Princess Elizabeth. Actually I changed my name to Joanna about five years ago and am much happier with this name. But that's another story.

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