NO 26 JANUARY 2003
What’s in a Name?
Forgive me, dear reader. I have been running and running and running . . . This month, the column is very late, and I want to explain why.
Now, it isn’t that I couldn’t find a topic. I had, have a topic. What I haven’t been able to find is the time to write. For one thing, we are in the very last stages of finishing our DVD film, The Dream of Istanbul. We are doing the sound now: recording the narratives—English, Turkish and French (Inþallah, the person we have asked to help us with the English version will agree to do it because his voice is perfect!)—and putting in the music (this seems to be going very well). For another, I looked for and found a new job, at an incredible English language preschool whose motto is THE WORK OF THE CHILD IS PLAY. (1) (It’s only been a week, but again Inþallah, it will continue to seem like a spiritual exercise. Right now, I’m actually excited when I go to work in the morning.) And then there are other things I am committed to writing—articles for two scholarly projects, and they both require a lot of very demanding, albeit very rewarding work. So, you see, I am running, really.
Well, enough of that. Now for this month’s topic.
I have a question that is intended for Turks as well as for foreigners. Have you ever stopped to marvel at the incredibly rich meaning in Turkish names? I mean, Turkish first names, last names being a) relatively new in our history and b) not so interesting (to me, anyway). I was struck by this a couple of weeks ago, when my beloved and I went to have a drink at a bar we go to and began talking with one of the waitresses. Her name was Ahusevi. It’s sense is that of an endearment meaning, ‘gazelle with beautiful eyes.’ I insisted that she repeat her name and the meaning, both, so that I could write it all down on a napkin. I tend to forget stuff like this, and it was a good idea that I did write it down, because that very same napkin is here on the desk as I write this.
Anyway, that encounter with Ahusevi made me a lot more aware of names and I began asking my friends and students what their names meant. For example, I have one private student whose father’s name is Atilla (Attila seems to enjoy a much better reputation here in Turkey than he ever did in Jersey City, New Jersey, where I grew up) and so he was named ‘Tolga Attila.’ Tolga, he explained means ‘helmet,’ and Tolga was the name of one of Attila’s lieutenants. Just now, I took a quick look at the roster for a class I finished teaching a week ago. There is Aslihan, which means ‘Lady of the Palace,’ as well as Bahar, which means ‘spring,’ ‘the season of flowers,’ Deniz Dilek, ‘sea wish,’ Hakan, which means ‘Sultan,’ Merdan, ‘a man among men,’ Osman, the name of the third Caliph, Rüya, meaning ‘dream,’ Semra, meaning ‘dark,’ Ümit, meaning ‘hope,’ of course, and Zafer, which means ‘accomplishment or victory. Amazing. And the other evening I had the good fortune to meet another group of people and one of them bears the astonishing name of Evren, meaning ‘the universe.’
Regular readers know that I am always and forever going on about how meaning is important. Well, it is. Did you know that there are some creation myths in which the actual naming of a thing or a creature gives it form, brings it into being? For example, in the Enuma eliþ, a creation myth from Mesopotamia dating from early in the second millennium (circa 1900 b.c.e.), the idea of names and naming is very important. The opening lines of the myth read as follows:
When on high the heavens had not been named,
Firm ground below had not been called by name.
Naught but primordial Apsu, their begetter,
(And) Mummu-Tiamat, she who bore them all,
Their waters commingling as a single body. (2)
What’s really interesting about this is that it is a story about what happened before the beginning, and of course it is logically impossible to talk about what something was like before it actually existed. However, the mythmaker was extremely clever, so when we read this we do have the feeling that we are able to “observe” an intrinsically unobservable event. The myth goes on to say that
reed hut had been matted, no marshland had appeared,
When no gods whatever had been brought into being,
Uncalled by men, (3) their destinies undetermined—
it was that the gods were formed within them.
Lahmu and Lahamu were brought forth, by name they were called. (4)
and Lahamu were brought forth, by name they were called.”
Naming again. And
very important, because after that, the whole process of creation took
off, and the entire universe got organized:
right and left, up and down, the four cardinal
directions—north, south, east, and west were established, sky, earth,
sea, animals, human beings, all of it, everything.
The point here is that the naming was important.
The naming was necessary before anything could come into being.
you remember that last month I said that Turkish people are lucky?
Well, they are. It’s
true. Just look.
It’s a huge responsibility to come up with a name for a book,
or a new business. Now when we name a child, we are helping to shape
his/her character, even helping to shape his/her destiny.
Turkish parents give their children a priceless gift because they
choose meaningful names with great care.
The fact is that, even today, in 2003, newborn babies here are
often given names that can take them the entire lifetime to live up to.
please, at least for a few moments, forget about the traffic, and the
economic problems, and the madness brewing to the east of this wonderful
country. We can’t do
anything about those things, anyway.
Take a few moments and think about what you’ve been reading
here. It will probably make
you feel happy and you’ll smile. That’s good. Very,
next month, all of you out there please take care.
1. If you have a preschool aged child and are interested in
getting more information about this program, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
and I can give you the name, address, and phone number of the school so
that you can contact them yourself.
2. James B. Pritchard, trans. and ed., Ancient
Near Eastern Texts.
New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1950, p. 61.
3. “Uncalled by men,” simply means that even the gods did not exist, even the gods had no names; that is, they were “uncalled.” This is all before the “Big Bang,” as it were.
Pritchard, p. 61.
|No.1- April 2000||No.11 April 2001||No. 20 July 2002||No 29 April 2003|
|No.2 June 2000||No.12 May 2001||No. 22 September 2002||NO 30 MAY 2003|
|No.3 July/August 2000||No. 13 June 2001||No. 23 October 2002||NO 31 JUNE 2003|
|No.5 October 2000||No.14 July 2001||No 24 November 2002||NO 32 JULY 2003|
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|No 37 February - March 2004||No 38 April 2004|
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