Thursday, October 15, 2009

What is in a Name?

click on pictures to enlarge
What is in a name? For people who know and appreciate firearms, just the name makes a statement. So many names that in and of themselves, speak of quality, of history. You tell someone you bought a gun, and you get interest. But to certain folks, you say. "I bought a 1911", or I bought a "Browning" and you get some attention. Just the world "Colt" makes ME blush like a schoolgirl.
The sciences were my subjects in school, and walking through an excavation, through a field, I can name things: trees, plants, animals. Acer diabolicum, canas lantrans, Mephitis mephitis (run guys run!), chrysomya rufifacies. Latin (quite often a mixture of Latin and Greek) was the language used by educated people and by the church in older times, so Latin was used to give scientific names to animals and plants. The names though weren't just given randomly. They meant something. Corynocarpus means that the seed looks like a club. Laevigatus refers to the fact that the leaves are smooth. The same used to happen to people names. People called Smith probably had a blacksmith as a (many-times) great-grandfather. My grandmother was a Gullikson, her Dad's name likely coming from Son of Gullik.

I'm currently reading
Undaunted Courage, a story about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Lewis and Clark did more than chart, they named. Their party named everything they ran across that didn't already have one, spots of land, trees, like the lodge pole pine, Pinus contorta, trees twisted and stunted by Pacific coast storms. They named birds, the Lewis woodpecker, the Clark's nutcracker. They named the waters they traveled down or places they camped after game taken or the birthday of someone born the day they encountered it for the first time.

We also name many things. I have "The Range", my friends have "Roseholme Cottage". You may have a name for your own home. We may have a name for our vehicle; we almost always have a name for our boat. (my former 22 foot fishing boat was Irish Wake). The Wilson Combat Tactical AR-15 that rides behind me in a case in my truck is named Vera. Call me odd but it makes me smile (and most of you will know why). In some religions it is believed that people can not be granted eternal life until they have been baptized, until they have been given a name.

In the Bible all things are drawn out by name. In Genesis it says that "God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas". To exist is to have a name.Yet we do not know God's name. Yhwh, four ancient Hebrew letters, a word without vowels, a name that does not name. The power to name is the power to create, and the power to create is the power to destroy.

People have birth names and nicknames. Brigid is my birth name, later to be my middle baptismal name, after I was adopted. I have a title. I have the name of my father, which is not the name of my husband which I still bear, years after that marriage passed. I have the name that only my brothers can get away calling me. They are all part of me, they all in their forms, describe me. As little girls we give our dolls names to bring them to life. As adults we name our pets to make them members of the family.There are some living things that define classification, and thus defy being named."Protists", groups of living things comprising those eukaryotes which are neither animal, plant or fungi. Protists - the scientists way of saying "none of the above". One of them is algae. Bones are affected under the earth by algae, fungi and bacteria. The traces of damage due to fungi or algae appear in thin ground sections as horizontal or vertical channels which sometimes converge on one another to form large flat or tufted like forms, causing the entire bone to disintegrate. In some rare cases, destroying all we might have left to identify someone by name.
Sometimes all that is left to be buried is a few teeth, a piece of bone. But it is at least something to be placed in the ground with a name. Something for remembrance, for closure. On my long drive into the city I see the occasional cross by the road, with simply a name and perhaps a few flowers. How important these undistinguished little memorials. Every death is a memory that ends here, yet continues on. Enduring, for there is not one of us who can affirm that there must be a web of muscle and bone to hold the form of love. It's there, in dust and sky and new life, it's there deep within us, waiting.

Just north of my home is a small, very old graveyard. I can get there by walking wooded trails just west of the county road. One day there was an elderly man, kneeling down by one of the graves, a stone probably 50 years old. As he knelt, he gently touched the engraving on the stone, tracing the name of a young woman with his fingers - Elizabeth -wife, mother. The name that of someone who passed so very long ago. The feel of her name beneath his hand, carved there for generations to come, seemed to offer him some comfort, and I quietly left him in peace, wondering if when I am gone, someone will trace my name.So what is in a name? It is memory, and memory is not simply selective, it is also tutelary, oracular. It is, in the end, as reliable as we are, as strong as our word. The names and facts of my life by themselves are insignificant. But what our names represent is history, a life. When I look at the name of someone I loved on a gravestone, I do not see stone, I do not see letters. I see memory, and that is what we live on for. A simple name brings back memories, as a plunge underwater in a swift stream, as an airplane baffled and bounced in a fierce Spring wind as we labored to get home, as a Southwest night pouring into our heads every star, as smells of kitchens and gunpowder and black earth and lilacs and coffee and warm need, as a hatred of loss, as a discarding of painful past, as stillness and persistence going forward alone. I trace the outline of a name, be it family or friend, and I know how that name made me feel. And that is not insignificant

All along the wooded trail going home there are things we might miss seeing, because they have not been named. Small pools of darkness within a wandering stream, the gloss of light on leaves and the shape of shadows on the bark. The feel of the wind against my neck, a gentle reminder from up above that I will not be forgotten. A reminder that He who has no name, knows mine. The wind as cool breath on my neck reminding me that I am loved, that my name is on someones lips. For earth without form is void, but heaven without names is only blackness.


  1. Oh my, you've done it again. I think this one is among your very best.

    "Vera" (snickers) - "She's way better'n what you got."

  2. I don't want to talk about it.

    Words have power, by their presence, or their absence.

    But only say the word, and I shall be healed.

  3. At some point, I will go to visit the Bataan Memorial and find the name of my great-uncle who survived the march only to succumb to malaria at the end. I've only seen a handful of pictures of him, but the stories my grandfather shared about him have etched in my memory. For some reason, seeing his name, my surname, inscribed is important to me.

  4. So you were an Orphan Girl. Hmmmmm.....

    But also a Chosen Girl. Chosen to be part of another family. That can be a very glad thing if you can see it (many adopted children do not). Your adopted parents must have loved you very much as you have obviously thrived and grown to love life and the things within it.

    Names are a powerful thing, Brigid. To know a true name is quite powerful. Forexample, if you know the name of something that afflicts you, you can go about ending the affliction. When someone does something that disturbs you, yet you do not know why it bothers you, you do not have the name of the process behind those actions that they are doing. Once you've been able to name the process behind the action, only then are you on the road to resolving that disturbing issue that was presented.

    As you know, there are names and there are true names. Its a shame that your name 'Brigid' conceals the story of who you are. But then it would become a very long and complex name and would not serve well for day to day purposes. ;)

    Yet another nice post, Brigid. It sure got me thinking in ... unusual provinces. :)

  5. Beautiful post Brigid, thanks... As always, you make us stop and think :-)

  6. Firefly shirts (there's even a browncoat shirt).


  7. As always, the window into a lyrical heart that feels more than most.

  8. It's my 25th birthday today. I'll be stopping by the cemetery and visiting my twin brother's grave. When I see his name I think of all the potential now gone, all that could have been.

  9. Speaking of names... I'm thinking of a few myself. Saffron, Yolanda... Brigid.... hmmm.... totally random choices.... yeah you bet. Uh-huh.

    Someday maybe we'll get the story behind the story.

  10. Thoughtful, lyrical, beautiful--excellent essay, as always. Thank you!

  11. Vera - Makes me smile too...;-)

    Someone will trace your name Brigid.

  12. Beautifully written, Brigid. I didn't know of your blog until yesterday, when I saw the reference in Michael Bane's Blog.

    I shall now become another faithful follower.

  13. As always beautifully done. A name is important to a person.

    See Ya

  14. It has been 20 years this week since my father-in-law died. Not a day goes by that I don't think about him, because I was lucky to call him my friend. He wasn't just my wife's Dad. I don't go to the cemetery because that's not how I remember him. I remember how he taught me carpentry skills and when I build a wall I think of him, or when I tile a floor or any of the thousand things he taught me. I think that perhaps you too will be remembered that way some day also. Thanks once again.

  15. Now now, we all know that Vera is"

    "a Callahan full-bore auto-lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge thorough gauge. It is my very favorite gun... This the best gun made by man. It has *extreme* sentimental value"

    Actually I believe that the prop for Jayne's Vera was made from a Siaga Shotgun of all things.

  16. I've rarely named "things." My wife and daughter once named one of our cars, (a Yellow VW named Woodstock) but that's it.

    I'll have to consider that.

  17. Definitely one of my favorites. This touches on so many things that resonate with me now.

    Photographing old places, surrounded by the dead and forgotten as we often do - I usually find myself thinking about the power of names, and of memory.

    I read the journals of Lewis and Clark a couple of years ago and was amazed at what I didn't know about the trip, having now read the adventure in their own words. Good Stuff.

  18. What a timely sensitive piece. My father died one week ago, Oct. 9 at 10:30 p.m. surrounded by family. It was a tough weekend and we had his service Tuesday afternoon. He was a husband, father, son, brother, friend, teacher, coach, athlete and artist and he touched thousands of lives over the years. Each life he touched also touched his and gave energy to the giving and careing that is his legacy. The outpouring of love that was expressed by those whom he cared about and who cared for him was overwhelming and amazing. There is a huge void where he once resided but we who survive will do our best to carry on the work he lived. I don't have to carry that by myself because he inspired so many who in turn embraced his encouraging and nurturing spirit. Never the less, I will attempt to walk the path he showed me and carry on the cycle of love and grace that he lived.

    Words can inspire, but a life lived to help, encourage and love does so much more. If my own legacy is only half of his I will have succeeded. The world is a better place because of the 81 years my dad spent in it, I hope the same can be said for me when my number is called. For anyone wondering, he was a follower of Jesus Christ, and so am I.

  19. Incredible post! It is comforting to know other people understand and appreciate the importance of names.

    My truck is Rosinante', My Rifle is James (short for James' rifle, the freind who passed and left it to me). James' Rifle is just a Remington 710 in .300 Winchester Magnum, that him and I had lightly customized not long before he passed away.

  20. Perhaps this is why several religions have different names for different aspects of their deities (Mabd, Morrigan, Dagdah; Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva). Or even the forms of the Virgin - Mater Dolorosa, Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of the Angels, Our Lady of the Rosary . . . When something is too numinous or complex to take only one name, even G-d, we name what we think we see or understand, then name another part, and another in hopes of coming to understand it all.

    WV: "Plato". "There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter/ Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames/ Such as: Plato, Ademitus, Electra, Demeter . . ." T.S. Elliott "The Naming of Cats"

  21. Borepatch - Amen.

    Fenris - Your Uncle was a brave man. It is fitting you honor him so.

    red - I think I need a new shirt. Hope to see you and your beautiful bride sometime soon.

    og - thanks for the email. I'll talk to you in a bit.

    The axe - happy birthday! Losing a twin. I can't imagine. Bless you on this day.

    Crucis - my little scooty car in college was named Fenry. He was a Honda.

    RC - thank you. Keeping you and your family in my prayers right now. Hope all is well with your son, and stays that way.

    BigCat - I'm so sorry for the loss of your father. If there was a way to send a big hug across the interwaves I would. I hope your family finds comfort in wonderful memories.

  22. Amazing the way you can bend my mind and make something that I didn't know was in there, forgotten a long time ago. Thanks for letting us share your thoughts.

  23. I finally run across someone who also sees the sacred power of the naming process. In Genesis 2 after God creates the creatures, he brings them to Adam for him to name. He gives dominion over them to Adam. After God makes his covenant with Abram, he renames him Abraham.

    Many blacks change their names to names that make them feel more attached to their true African heritage, and to jettison the tie they have to their ancestors' owners under slavery. Many immigrants, who find their names were Anglicized upon entry to America, do the research to change their names back to their ancestors.

    God gives us a pseudonym, I AM, to give us some sort of handle to use with him, since He knows our need to name, though he holds back his true name, to hold to Himself His power.

    If you find a stray cat or dog, never name it, unless you plan to keep it. The farmers I've known name their pets, and name their dairy cattle and work horses, but never name the animal stock they sell or use for meat.

    Besides a number of other things, to name is yet another human trait of all the earthly creatures.

  24. Joe - welcome to my home. You are very welcome.

    mts1 - yes, you understand. Thank you.

  25. Thanks for your post Brigid. I found it so interesting that you referenced the name of God. The four letter Hebrew word is from the verb to be, but it has no tense. In essense, God says that He is, with out reference to time. You mentioned in a previous post about naming firearms, and it has inspired me to name mine by using names from the country that they were made in. My 1911 is "Betty," my Sako .30-06 is "Marrit," my M44 Mosin Nagant is "Olga," and so on.
    Any way... thanks again.

  26. WOW! Just totally WOW!
    Totally AWESOME post!

  27. "Undaunted Courage" was my first Stephen Ambrose book, and I'm currently reading my sixth one. He makes history come alive. The book is excellent and the description of their exploits is nothing short of fantastic.


  28. Speaking of names ---- I take it the geese picture with B. on followers list is you Brigid - I noticed the change on my site - blog designation changed? I like your Shootin Iron Brigid follower picture. It makes me think of shooting more not that I need much to get me doing that. I want to do the STI/American Handgunner Match some year/years and Cowboy Action Shoots too. I appreciate you checkin into my little site once in a while - It still suprises me some people do - I don't put much up. Thanks B. You amaze me with all the great things you put into your site and the time it must take you but it must be a passion of yours. Have a great weekend, Ed.

  29. Well I never really knew him which helps, we were born 3 months premature, I managed to survive but he only lasted 2 weeks. So it's more what could have been than really losing a close brother to me. Other names that mean a lot are a few wonderful ex-es, some brands like Savage or Mazda who's products are great quality or hold good memories, and Jesus my savior. I hope you're enjoying your weekend.

  30. Truly a wordsmith of the heart. "There shall be no stone for me. I shall be in the wind that cools your brow. I shall be beside you during your travails. I shall be the star light that guides your path in the night. I shall live in the hills and valleys of your world."

  31. Well - that's what I get for not shooting more lately ;)

  32. Well, my days of not taking you seriously have certainly come to a middle. ;-)

    The Harley's name is Lucille, and home is the Refuge (of the scoundrel).


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..