6/17/08

What's in a Name?

I have a never ending interest in people. I am a certifiable "people watcher" much to the demise of my husband and daughter. I could sit in a restaurant for hours and watch everyone. Then, I like to guess in my mind where they came from, who their ancestors are, what their role in the world is. Sometimes, when someone introduces themselves, I find myself trying to figure out the origins of their last name.

I'm pretty good with American Indian last names. How hard is it to know that a man named Barefoot or RunningCrow is of Native American origins. Scandinavian names are pretty easy and I find myself guessing on a lot of jewish names. Of course, the scottish and Irish clan names are dead giveaways. (I deliberately left scottish lower case to annoy my husband and his lowland ancestors)

Sometimes, when I go to Walmart or the Mall, I find myself just reflecting on a face, an expression and wondering what the story is behind it. If someone is smiling, it's pretty easy. A smile is always contagious but sometimes I wonder why they have the right to smile when my day may not be going so well - I am a pessimist. I see anger and I wonder what someone did to someone else. I see sadness and I wonder why the sense of loss. I am forever speculating about names and the stories behind them.

Have you ever asked someone about their name? I do that a lot - again -much to the annoyance of my immediate family members. But I ALWAYS find it to be an interesting story. From names that can be traced back to slave days and assigned names to names that can be traced back to people who changed them as soon as they got off the boat here two hundred or so years ago so they could not be convicted in this new country, the stories are fascinating. It's a great way to begin to get to know someone. This isn't just last names. First names normally carry a significance. For instance, I was to be named after a famous Confederate (note the capitalization!) General if I were to be born a boy. And the middle name would then match my dads. Unfortunately for me, I was born a girl, so they shortened the name and STILL assigned it to me. I love the mail I still get addressed to "Mr."

One thing I see in every face, every name and every story is a blessing. It's a blessing to my life that I even have the ability to ask or to watch. In a time when we are reluctant to speak or smile to one another, I am blessed that my questions can often soften a heart and result in some great storytelling.

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