Friday, December 31, 2010

What's in a Name - Really?

The then-known World
What’s in a name? We went to see The King’s Speech at a theatre in Edmonton a week ago and it brought up a discussion of names. King George VI had four names: Albert Frederick Arthur George. When he contemplated his coronation upon the abdication of his brother Edward, he might logically have become “King Albert,” but that seemed unsatisfactory and so he chose to be “George” despite the fact that he had pretty serious issues with his father, “George V,” who is portrayed in the movie as an unforgiving tyrant regarding young George’s struggle with a stammer. George VI grew up being called “Bertie” by his family. Take time to see the movie; it’s a story of substance for a change.

I also am “George.” The name doesn’t automatically confer king-like-ness. My mother told me the name was chosen because I was born on George VI’s birthday—December 14th. My father’s name was “Gerhard” and I recall that some of my aunts called him “George.” So I repeat, “What’s in a name—actually?” Would my life have been different if they’d chosen “Albert” or “Frederick” or “Arthur?”

Writer Rudy Wiebe taught me long ago that in writing fiction, naming characters is important. Names carry connotations: I met a young girl who will go through her whole life with the name “Precious Gem;” The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, a 1760s serialized novel by Laurence Sterne proposes that anyone with the name “Tristram” is branded for life as . . . well . . . not-totally-robust.

There is a trend going on in naming, and that must mean something too. Statistics in the USA reported at show that the most popular baby name in 2005 was “Jacob,” followed by “Michael,” “Joshua” and “Matthew.” What’s the trend? Fluffy to solid? Back to the Bible? Both? Or are we simply followers of fashions that tilt—as it were—with the fanning of butterfly wings?

Back in R.D. Parker Collegiate, some staff members invented a student and got him inserted into the school records, even had the principal attempting to reach his parents to discover the reasons for his absences. They called him “Klavier Onk.” I’ve always liked that name, as evidenced by the fact that I haven’t forgotten it over these 30+ years.

Wouldn’t “King Onk III” be a hoot?

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