CLMN | What’s in a name?


“What’s in a name?”, said Shakespeare once famously. While the philosophical debate continues, I often ask people, “what does it mean!?”. In response comes a confused reply - “What do you mean?”. Yes, your name, it would have a meaning in your culture or language, right?

I had a presumption that in all cultures people’s name mean something and they were aware of it, since almost all Indian names would mean something, inspired by nature, mythology, beliefs, etc. Most times nature’s beauties like spring flowers or confluence of rivers, season elements like monsoon clouds, qualities like pride or even names of goddesses or gods. This always helped me remember names and it makes for interesting discoveries in vocabulary without much effort.

However, I confused many in my first encounters in The Netherlands, where Tom and Rob are very common names given to boys (it makes me happy that girls have more variety). Often people said it is short for something, or the origin was in another culture, and that was it. I was asked for the meaning of my name in return and I said what I have been saying all my life (for the curious, it means ‘full of light rays’). Some did comeback to me later, to share what they had discovered about their name, and were delighted. In one case a much older lady shared that her name meant an angel of a particular kind. Gladly she said: “I never thought about it, but I am glad I know the meaning now”

Interestingly people had meanings for their surnames to share. Like the origin lying in a former ancestral profession (similar to in India). Dijkstra (of course of the Dijkstra’s algorithm which amazed you with the magic of science once again) meaning the keeper of the dyke. Or the town the ancestors lived in, when surnames became compulsory to have. Or sometimes, just how the surname had traveled from some other parts of the world, probably during the golden ages, mystery traders, a great puzzle for the families to solve.

These were simple things of life I never realized before moving to The Netherlands. While it is easy to magnify and see the differences, the commonalities are equally important. 

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