(This post is part of a weekly series for Know Thyself 2019, a 365 day journal project. Start here!) This week the questions are a break from the previous week’s heavy questions! You can even use these questions as conversation starters. Enjoy!
This Week’s Journal Topic: Names
Romeo doesn’t care the Juliet’s surname is his enemy’s surname; to Romeo she’ll always be the same enchanting woman, even if her name was something else. A name, in other words, means nothing. But is a name really just an arbitrary thing, or does it affect our personality and future? If names are unimportant, why do parents agonize over choosing the perfect name?
Parents name their children’s given names with various purposes in mind.
- Unique reference. Some parents are concerned about originality of the name and want the name and spelling, in combination with the last name, to be a one-of-a-kind feature. E.g. Abcde, Mykenzee, J-a (Jadasha), etc.
- Meaning. Some parents want a name to carry meaning and/or give the child a certain strength or quality. Biblical and religious names remind the child and others of virtuous characters. E.g. Mary, Jesus, Joseph, Constance, Felicity.
- Personality. Sometimes a name is chosen so the child will have a certain personality, especially with feminine names such as Summer, Pearl, Flora
Regardless of the name they were given at birth, people often choose their own names by shortening them, preferring their middle name, or choosing a completely different name. Many immigrants choose a name in their new country’s language, choosing to go-with-the-flow instead of trying to teach other people a foreign name.
Only recently has it become more common to have a surname that not. Until several hundred years ago, common people did not have surnames; they were reserved for the ruling classes and aristocracy. When surnames were first being introduced in Europe, people became known by their trade or profession (e.g. William Smith), by adding their mother or father’s first name and “son” or “dotter”, or by geographic origin. When surnames were being introduced in China, people received surnames based on origin, status, occupation, and ethnicity, etc. South Asian Indians received surnames by caste or religious conversion, among others ways. In some places, such as Indonesia, it is still not uncommon for people to have only a given name.
Social Importance of Names
Names were important to society because the unique identifier of first name + surname makes it easy for governments to use databases. Databases allow governments to track and identify individuals in large populations. This facilitates the ability to distribute benefits, collect taxes, ensure each child’s enrollment in school, and track criminals. For some people who have only a given name, it can be difficult to obtain travel documents.
- Do you strongly identify with your name (or nickname) or do you feel little attachment to it?
- Are you happy with your name? Why or why not?
- If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to?
- Do you think parents have the right to name their children whatever they want? (recall the news story about Abcde, pronounced ab-si-dee)
- Do you think your name affects the way people perceive you on paper and in person? How?
- Why might a person’s name affects their personality? How might your future change if you changed you name?
- Do many other people share the same name as you? Google your name and read about someone else with your name (or as similar as possible). Describe the experience of reading about that person.
How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:
Don’t rush through the questions. Try to do only one question every morning, leaving space to add thoughts that might come up later during the day. The journal is designed to help you develop a consistent, daily practice of self-reflection.
If you liked this week’s post, please like or comment! I appreciate the feedback and use it to choose future topics. If you want to see more posts like this one, let me know!