What’s in a name? I just finished reading The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. Yes…for my book club. Yes…we are going out for margaritas to discuss it tomorrow night – but we don’t just get drunk – we really do talk about the book, REALLY!
The book was recently made into a movie, that’s out in theatres now, I think. Same director who did Monsoon Wedding – which I really enjoyed, so I’m hoping to go see with this flick with the book club gals, and maybe go for a drink afterwards.
Though the story itself wasn’t incredible, and actually was quite depressing, since you had to watch the protagonist go through a series of broken relationships – it was very interesting. I learned quite a bit about Bengali culture and tradition, and all the details about choosing names and the importance of names in their society was fascinating.
Lahiri’s focus on names, coupled with her main character’s struggle with his own name – made me remember my own issues with my name.
My mother is of Jewish heritage, and it is tradition to name the next born in the family after the most recently deceased – not the same name, exactly, but usually the same first initial. My mother’s Uncle Meyer passed away not long before I was born – so it was to be “Matthew” if I was a boy – and “Melissa” if I was a girl…however, there already was a Melissa in the family, so my parents decided on “Melanie.” But wait – my mom went to school with a girl named Melanie, and I guess they didn’t get along too well, because she couldn’t allow me to have the same name as this other girl – hence, I became “Melonie.”
Growing up, this alteration in spelling drove me crazy. When I did find bookmarks or stickers or little license plates with my name on it – it was of course, always spelled “Melanie.” The difference in spelling used to bother me – but as I grew older, I began to appreciate it – and its uniqueness. I also like the way it looks with my last name; creating a smooth conformity of vowels. My husband and I chose a unique name for our own daughter – and that was not any easy choice to make! I don’t regret it though.
That was another thing this book reminded me of – the whole process of choosing a name for your child. Sure – it’s easy to think up names you’d like to name your potential off-spring when they’re just a possibility – but when the actual event is imminent and you know you’re responsible for choosing the name that will identify, define, and shape another human being’s life – well, the task becomes more daunting. One of the first things a pregnant woman is asked is, “Do you have names picked out?” My husband and I refused to discuss our choices with anyone – we talked about it sure, and accepted suggestions with, what I hope was a decent amount of grace, but kept our decisions to ourselves. Too many people feel obligated to give their opinion on the choice of name – and, well – it’s not their kid! I really liked the name, “Aishling” a Gaelic name meaning “dreamer, poet.” Hubby wasn’t too keen on it, so between us, the name morphed into “Aishtyn” (like Ashton) and…you know, to us it seems perfect.
Maybe one day Aishtyn will go through a phase like I did in second grade, where I was in love with “K”names – and wanted to be called, “Katrina” or “Kathleen” or, Lord help me, “Kandy.” Maybe she will wish she was an “Emma” or an “Ashley” or something popular like the names of her cousins, but hopefully, she will come, as I have – to accept and love her name, as a part of herself – of who she is.
That, perhaps – is the most important question of Lahiri’s book: does your name help define who you are – what you become? It is an interesting thing to consider, if you lived your life under a different name – would you be the same person you are today? Live the same life you are living now?
Hmmm…I bet if I had been named Kandy, my life would pr-ooo-bably be different. Just a guess!