Imagine if your name meant “scorching pain in the eye.”
Oh dear. What would your classmates say? How would that affect your self-image? Do you think you might, by some unfortunate power of psychosomatic suggestion, always have a pain in your peeper?
It’s not ideal. Now add to the scenario: you’re the queen of the eight Hawaiian islands.
Say what now?
For Queen Lili’uokalani (born Lili’u Kamaka’eha), or any Native Hawaiian before the 1860’s, receiving a name with such an odd and specific meaning was more common than you’d think. Whether queen or peasant, Hawaiians were usually bestowed supremely unique names. They had no “family” surname to pass down and each individual name was considered powerful enough to block or create certain energies directly affecting the person’s mana (Hawaiian equivalent to prana, chi, ki, mojo).
Hence uber-long names like Kamakanaiho’unamaikalaniakeakua (God’s gift sent from above) or Kamakanaalohamaikalani (a beloved gift from the heavens).
In the nineteenth century, the ten most common names in Hawaii only covered four percent of the population. Few rules existed, though children were always given names suitable for their social class.
So where did the last queen of Hawaii get her unlucky-sounding name?
At the time her birth, her great aunt suffered from an eye-ache. Plain and simple. Good thing her Aunt didn’t suffer from something even less graceful!
Some names transform into legend and come to mean much more than the person they represent: Hitler, JFK, even Gaddafi. I remember using the phrase “Hey, don’t Gaddafi my popcorn” in high school. In other words, don’t go seizing my popcorn, dude.
My name’s a bit of a mouthful, though thankfully not so much of an ordeal of anguish (in more ways than one. Queen Lili’uokalani was also our last queen, thanks to a devious – and rather common – strategy employed by the US government. But that’s the subject of another blog all together).
Named for my grandmother Joan and my gramma Dot (Okiko means orchid in Hawaiian, the primary flower in gramma’s massive garden, Shigeko is also gramma’s middle name, meaning gracious gift in Japanese) – I’m clearly a symbol of my parents’ love for their mothers!
I see my name as a kind of white-bread teriyaki sandwich. The Joanne and the Kelly are clearly European, and the stuff in the middle is where all the flavah’s at. Though Joanne sometimes sounds like a farm girl to me, there is that famous actress . . .
At my second yoga teacher training, this time with the Sivananda school, I was given a fifth name, a spiritual name – by request. I was curious to see what they would come up with. Our swami, Yaneshvara, spent hours searching our faces, noting our behaviors both in and out of the classroom (at least, this is what she’s said to us!).
After a few weeks of contemplation, she decided to name me “Jyoti” – light. It sounds quite similar to my given name – so I’ll probably turn around if someone starts calling me that at the ashram – and I do love the meaning. But will I use the name? I’m happy to be called Jyoti at the ashram but if I start asking people to call me that in the ‘real’ world, I might feel a bit . . . self-conscious.
Indian naming systems vary depending on the region. For example, in Kochi and Travancore, they use the format Family/House Name-Father’s name-Person’s name. OR Father’s name-Person’s name E.g.: A K Antony: Arackaparambil (House Name) Kurian Pillai (Father’s Name with a title) Antony (First Name). At the end of the day, you just start calling people by their initials. In this case, A.K.A. Ha!
One thing most names across the world have in common: they were given to us, like a gift. Hopefully from the heart, and certainly just for us. Although there are some gifts that make us cringe – “Ah gee, I’ve always wanted a giant camel ashtray!” – and some gifts that everyone else seems to have already, a sense of humor and equanimity always helps coming to terms with the linguistic symbol forever attached to our being.
Do like your name? How much of an influence do you reckon your name has in the way people perceive you? Has it been a factor in the way you perceive the world?