30.12.11

Names and Naming, p4

4. Names that change


Temporary Names

The one naming issue common to all cultures may be that of temporary names. This can be as informal as the childhood nickname our parents never really let go of, or as formal as a name that is ceremonially given then ceremonially changed at a coming of age. In the Marshall Islands, for the first few days after birth, boys are known as Labburo and girls as Lijjiron. Then they are given a name from their maternal ancestral line. It doesn't exclude that later nicknames can become the true name after a while. Swahili-speaking people give the permanent name on the 7th or 40th day exactly, while the Delaware's way is less numerological, between the ages of 9 and 12. A birth order name is given to Sioux children until they get a more appropriate one; Winona for instance applies to a first-born girl.
Temporary names can also be unpleasant or disgusting ones, meant to keep evil spirits or Death away from the child (especially if earlier children died) until he's strong enough to be safe. A Hawai'ian child can go by Stinking and an Egyptian as Dung Heap until the name can be changed.

Change of name

Comparatively few people keep their name unchanged throughout their life. The bureaucratization of Europe makes it necessary for Westerners to go through impossible paperwork to legally change their name. In Spain however, one can choose a name during one's confirmation to add to their given names. In Burma adopting a new name is as simple as sending presents to one's friends, with the message that they should now be known as so-and-so (women cannot however, as it is considered criticism of the parents). Among the Cheyenne, it is oness parents who may decide to change their child's name after a striking event; they send a crier through the village to announce the "death" of the old name and that a new one will be used henceforth. Almost all Native American tribes will change a name to reflect special events. People can even be given a resentment name, commemorating an insult or a hurt. On top of this, some like the Comanche change boys' names to indicate their coming of age, while women retain their birth name – an inverse situation to the Old World habit of women changing their name when they marry while men never change theirs. This separates the bride from her old life. This habit exists in Hindu marriage ceremonies, but as many Indians have no family name to change, the groom gives his bride a new first name during the ceremony.

The event that determines a change of name can be a birth. When the first son is born into an Arab family, the parents are henceforth known as Father of/Mother (name of son). This is considered a great pride and in some countries like Jordan their new name will figure on (for instance) doorbells, under the full name. Uniquely, Tahitian fathers lose their name and title to their first son at his birth, and so must take now a personal name based on the characteristics of the child.

Entering priesthood or a monastery/nunnery life anywhere, whether Christian or Buddhist etc, is an occasion to change one's name. In Japan (and actually everywhere, but less openly), it can also be changed to avoid the law, to protect oneself from vendetta, or to spare the family shame.

The most obvious and argued issue of name-changing, however, is that of women's name and family name. In the Old World and Northern America, the norm is for the wife to take her husband's family name, although today in many countries all the possible options (both keeping their names, hyphenating both names, keepign the wifess name)) are available and it's up to the couple to choose. In Russia the woman adopts the feminine of her husband's patronymics, as if she was now daughter of his father (we find the same notion all the way in Palau). In Poland and Czechoslovakia women add a "daughter of" ending to their father's personal name, then when they get married, they append "wife of" to their husband's name. Sesotho brides are referred to by new names as well, and soon are known as Mother of so-and-so (as in the case of Arabs, so does the husband become known as Father of someone).

Very few cultures, but they exist, are matrilineal and the names are transmitted from mother to children, as in the Marshall Islands and Basque culture. Tahiti isn't matrilineal, but a mother does transmit her titles (which are used as names) to her children.

Names and Gender

Differentiated names for men and women can be considered a sign of a culture that at least went through a period where it held women in low regard. This is particularly true when female names were all derived from male names and make no sense on their own. For instance Carlotta was formed from Carl, but it is not originally a name, it was born of the people's need to differentiate male and female names in order to make the gender immediately obvious. Most Latin and Greek names are such, female versions of names (we all know what was the place of women in their society), while Germanic people had autonomous sets of names for male and female, such as Brunhild and Gareth. Still, in this case, it implies preconceived ideas of what girls and boys could be named, since a man would not be called Brunhild nor a woman Gareth. There are exceedingly rare names that started out female and were adapted to male "clients", but Averell is one, from a female name meaning Golden.
In Arabic this gendering exists for names that are adjectives, as the latter are gendered ("red" would not be said in the same way if it applied to a rose – female – or skin – male), but names that are words (such as Light, Victory) can be given to both sexes and have only been differentiated after getting attached to a famous figure. This also happened with Hebrew names from the Bible: in their original context most of these names could have been given to man or woman, but once a famous man is called Abiel and a famous woman Bethany, the association is too strong to break.

Many other cultures never understood the need to gender names, or the notion that some names were not appropriate for one gender or the other. Why can't a boy be called Desert Rose, or a woman Angry Bear? Inhabitants of the Himalayas, Native Americans, Polynesians differentiate gender neither in grammar nor in meaning. Some Native American tribes, however, add a "woman word" to make a name feminine. Hindu names are often non-gendered, and a child can have two names that are that of a goddess and her mate. Mongolians only have a few names that are specifically feminine, and those are names of Lamaistic goddesses; others are undifferentiated except if historical events made one male. The Sikh on the other hand, though they don't have preconceived ideas about what a man/woman should be called, add kaus "woman" to female names and Singh "lion", "best of its kind" to male name.

The case of Yap is curious in that the elements tin and pin make a name female, and tam and moon male. The peculiarity lies in that these elements can be anywhere in the word: Fanapin, Tinag are female; Moonfel, Gilmoon are male.