Thursday, October 6, 2011

What's in a name

Sometimes weeks of my life run to a theme, some thought that dominates, some idea that pops up again and again. I don't choose it particularly. It chooses me.
Lately its been Names.
Not that names have not featured in my life before now, naturally.

For example, I have a little dog called Teaspoon.
Her name played a big part in us acquiring her. She was featured in an advert stuck on the door of the Superette in Kommetjie. Her owner made other claims about her, apart from her name. She was meant to be a bomb disposal expert, for instance. And some other things besides. When we met her, scuttling into the yard under the wooden fence, well, she wasn't even cute.
Her name was everything.
We kept her.
Over the years she has grown into it, the extraordinaryness of her name. That, and her oversized ears, and her bad manners where little children are concerned, or older men, or anyone who comes near my husband. Shes grown into having a  penchant for a mohair blanket (or any blanket for that matter), and never grown out of a deep hatred for the car.
I might even make the claim that her name saved her, absolutely.

I've been reading two books about a child with the unusual name of Turtle. She held on and would not let go, like a certain kind of Turtle, who only releases its grip when  the thunder claps. The idea is that if you hold on tight enough, you will be safe against most things.
Her name saved her too, in a sense.

Personally I have never felt the need to change my own name. I might have been forgiven for wanting too. There were always far too many of us. I was never, by way of example, the only one in my class. Not ever, right up to matric.
This phenomenon continued into University, and then, strangely, stopped. I think after that they all changed their names.
True, I have been given other names, in friendship, in intimacy, by lovers, haters, teasers, children, parents and those who feel fondness for me, generally.
Somewhere within the bigger picture of things, my name must be saving me too, one day at a time, because this name is mine, somehow unique, even within a large cloud of others.
Like a snowdrop.

Lately, over the last few weeks, I have met quite a few folk with rare and unusual names. Names that have made me smile. Names that have made me wonder.
These names, filed in a list at the soup kitchen I help out at, have attached themselves to waifs and strays, either by choice, or accident, or maybe, by another.
At first glance they appear to be a group of men in serious need of saving. But then, apart from a tatty set of random garments, their name, is just about the only thing they have.
The job of saving then, is probably done.

So, as I learn their names slowly, week by week, I greet each one with the weight a name deserves. They look at me clear eyed and me at them, and as all do not have English as a mother tongue, I wonder if they even understood, when first they heard their own name, the deeper meaning.
Well, it doesn't matter anymore, that much is surely true.

The day at the soup kitchen begins and, with a tub of samp and stew in hand, I await Johnny and his glorious surname, Be Good, with his snazzy red shoes, to give me his lopsided smile.
There is one man whose name I hesitate to call out, when his meal is ready-  Banana - echoing around the church yard.
General's name is perfectly apt as he is large and black, but also unemployed and hungry.
There is sweet Breakfast who comes round often, although we serve him closer to Lunch...
And there are some others, with rare and beautiful names, who I am only getting to know.
But my favourite of all, has to be that of a man, with a bowed and humble head, who seriously told me that he has but one name only, and that is Splash, and there it was, written down.

I have always liked to give names to things, or even change them. I changed my husbands name when we first got close, to a veriation of his name no one else used. Now I use only a letter, L, in referrence to him. As he got bigger to me, his name got smaller.
We seem to make the things we love as diminutive as we can.

Or maybe we reduce the names of those things, that to us, are big and beautiful and terribly important, to hardly any sound at all, maybe just a breath, a sigh - like the Ancient Hebrews, who didn't mention the  name of G--  at all.


  1. Great, a lekker read. That teaspoon, I miss her cuteness.

  2. The breath of God's name - so beautiful! I love it, that He, so vast and omnipotent, knows my name.

  3. Awesome writing. Makes me remember the funny love-nicknames I had as a child from my parents. And Nadene just sums it up to.