Friday, February 3, 2023

What's in a name?

In my last couple of trips to my Georgia house I concentrated on cleaning out the garage which was totally full. It's almost empty now. But thousands of books are still there. When I pass by a bookshelf, I'll pick one up at random. As I leafed through a book of quotations, I read the well known Shakespeare's quotation from Romeo and Juliet (Act II, Scene ii.) "What's in a name..."
The 4 1/2 hour drive back to Nashville gave me time to ponder on this quote and all its meanings ... roses...I had a rose garden in Georgia... I grew more than 150 rose cultivars: hybrid teas, floribunda, polyantha, a climber, a rambler, old-fashioned or heirlooom roses and grandiflora. One of my favorite roses was a strong tall bush, a grandiflora named Queen Elizabeth, with glorious pink blooms (as shown below.) I could see it from my kitchen window. It was introduced in 1954 to mark the Queen's coronation in 1953.
This royal rose was well named. My garden is long gone; now I just have a framed drawing of this regal rose. But maybe when I have more time I'll introduce this rose to my Nashville garden. I used to belong to the Deep South District of the Rose Society in Atlanta. At monthly meetings we would discuss roses and have a great time - I went there for years. Members were usually much older than me and came from every walk of life - we were united by our love of roses. It was a kind and fun crowd sharing rose information. I miss them. I still have the silver platter I won for 1st prize as a novice in the Atlanta Rose Show with my rose Mr. Lincoln.
"I don't know whether nice people tend to grow roses or growing roses makes people nice." (Roland A. Browne, American author.)
The names of my roses escaped me but last week I found a list of my roses. Below are top left The Peace Rose next to Dortmund (a rambler,) below left is Chrysler Imperial next to The Cherokee Rose, which is Georgia's official state "floral emblem."
In the Shakespeare's play, Juliet is telling Romeo that names are inconsequent and trivial. I take issue with this. Names are part of our identity, they influence us and how others perceive us. They can carry familial and cultural connections. Other people can make judgments or assumptions about us through our name. This reminds me that years ago, when I was expecting my first child, my husband told me that if the baby was a boy he liked the name Colin. The baby would be registered at the French Embassy as a French citizen through me, and then as a US citizen through my husband. The name of the child should sound fine in both languages and colin, in French, is a fish, a pollock, a cousin of the cod. The colin/pollock fish is popular with cooks because of its mild taste and flaky texture.
My grandparents came often to eat with us on Sundays in Paris and my mother would usually start the meal with a cold "colin" mayonnaise, as shown below.
I could not call my newborn a fish in French. Altough maybe with some French people who understand English, it might not sound so bad, but my French relatives did not speak English. Fortunately, our first baby was a girl (our second child was a girl as well.) In English, as well, names can be a problem, as I learnt at work. During my first ten years at Lockheed-Martin I was in charge of trainees coming to our plant to study our cargo aircraft the C-130 Hercules. My first duty when the trainees arrived was to draw a list of their names, birth dates, check their IDs or passports if they were from overseas so our Security Department could issue entrance badges to them. One time I made a list of Mexican trainees. I picked up the name of their country from their passports. As you can see from the picture below, it says "Estados Unidos Mexicanos" so I translated it as "United States of Mexico." Below map of Mexico overlaid on map of the USA.
Oh my! I received a telephone call from an irate Security Officer telling me that I had made a grave error in my document. He told me that only the United States of America can use the term "United States" and certainly not Mexico. He was returning my document and wanted me to correct the country's name. I was not sure what to call it. One of the Mexican trainees was standing near me and explained that they are aware of how defensive and possessive the USA is about the term "united states" and refuses for any other country to use it. He added that they translate it in English as the United Mexican States, placing the "united" first and "states" last to avoid hurting sensibilities here. So this is what I did. You see, names are important and can cause problems. Whatever one wishes to call the country of Mexico, it does have many states - 32 I believe. A photo of Mexico overlaid over Europe shows that it is a large country. (Click on collage to enlarge.)
Some countries are very strict about baby names; they even have laws on it. Denmark provides a list of 7,000 pre-approved names for parents to pick. If parents have another name in mind that is not on the list they will have to get special permission that will be reviewed by government officials. In Germany the first name must show the gender of the child, so you cannot use last names. The name must also be approved by the Standesamt (German Civil registration office.) If the name is not approved, you can appeal; if you lose you can submit another name and pay a fee. In Iceland the name has to be accepted by the "naming committee." It must contain letters in the Iceland alphabet and fit with the language, must be gender specific and won't embarrass the child in the future. In Sweden the Tax Agency has to approve the name, and it will be rejected if deemed not suitable. Portugal has banned the shortened versions of names as official names, so you can name you son Frederic but not Fred, and they also have a 4,000 list of prohibited names. In France, Napoleon Bonaparte created a law in 1803 showing which names were acceptable. In 1993 this law was repealed but if the registrar believes the chosen name could be damaging to the child's interest, he or she can refuse to confirm the name; the court needs to provide further consideration. But there are still banned names in France.
In 2015, a French couple wished to name their newborn girl "Nutella" afer the chocolate spread. (Photo above courtesy Imperial Sugar.) A judge denied their request stating that other children might mock her. The judge approved the name Ella instead (take it or not...) In France children cannot have the last name of a parent as a first name. Other names rejected were: Automne (fall in English) Joyeux (happy in English) Vanille (vanilla) Gentil (kind in English) Ravi (Indian name.) The name Manhattan was denied because it is the name of a known place. In the US I have heard people called after names of places, such as Lorraine (a French province) and its capital Nancy (a city) Rochelle (a French town by the sea) Chelsea (a London neighborhood) Paris (a capital) Africa (a continent) Asia, etc.
Most countries will not approve names that could be "detrimental to the child's interests" and have ratified the legally-binding international agreement of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) adopted in 1989. It acknowledges that children have basic fundamental rights. You can read it here . It is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history with 194 countries having done so. Only three countries have not ratified this human treaty: Somalia, South Sudan and the United States of America. The US says that it could interfere in the private lives of families, such as discipline. But then I found out that Former President Jimmy Carter signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on July 17, 1980, and this treaty has never been ratified by the United States of America either. Could it be the reverse then, that the US state can interfere in the private lives of women? This treaty has been ratified by 189 countries. The countries that have not are: Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga and the USA. But people can name their babies anything they wish here in this country.
Some US celebrities have given their poor children outrageous names - after cardinal points, seasons, colors, and more, such as Sage Moonblood, Audio Science, Bronx Mowgli, Denim and North. I found a list with appalling names given legally to US babies in 2022, such as Furious, Renegade, Billion, Luxury, Envy, Whiskey, Paradise, Exit, Handsome, Capone, Corleone (after the Godfather movie) Fairy, Rooster. How would you like to be named any of those? A name is powerful; it is an important part of our identity and should not be trivialized.
The top red rose was my winning Mr. Lincoln rose. I think "rose" is a good name for the flower, it is the same in French and English and calls to mind a delicate plant with lovely blooms and fragrance. If we changed the name of the rose to "cockroach" or "dung beetle" it might still smell as sweet as Juliet said, but would its image be as evocative and meaningful? No, let's keep calling it a rose, shall we?
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