What’s in a name?

 In Culture, Journal

I recently found this in the journal that I wrote when I was 11 years old

What’s in a name? This is something that I have been thinking about a lot recently, inspired by the work that I have been doing as part of the Cultural Leadership Programme – Diversity Matters. One topic that I have been exploring as part of it, is Identity, and have worked on a group project looking at this with Andrew Payne, Head of Education and Outreach at the National Archives, and Debbie Johnson, Head of Choreography at the Northern School of Dance. Our project stems from Gary Younge’s book and thought on ‘Who Are We and Does it Matter in the 21st Century?’  The presentation that we will be sharing, includes a film looking at identity in relation to people from Whitechapel, East London, and a dance performance inspired by the dancers relationship to her own name.

Names are so interesting, and something that in our culture we are able to be very proud of and use without fear. But for others in the world, your name could lead to your death for what it says about you to others, such as during the genoside in Rwanda. I find this fascinating, that we are all labelled in a way that says so much to others, and also helps us understand who we are. The story of our own names can be so revealing. Every culture places some importance on how they name their children, some are given names from their parents, and some even from the leaders of their community. For example, I have a friend in the states that grew up into a community (that some would call a cult) where the prophet who led the church named all the children that were born into it, including him.

I recently found this in the journal that I wrote when I was 11 years old

My own name is something that I now love, but has also formed part of my struggle to fit into my surroundings as a first/second generation immigrant. The definitions of which each terms means are ambiguous, but essentially, my parents moved to the UK in the early 70s, and were naturalised (that is actually the term used to describe giving up one’s citizenship to become a British citizen) meaning that I was born in to the UK as a British Citizen in the early 1980s. Of course, I didn’t really understand much of this throughout my childhood, and only found out in my early twenties that my parents had only meant to come here for a few years (to study Carl Jung, not settle forever) and so when my grandmothers died a few years ago, I thought how strange it must be for them to watch their children unable to properly communicate and share a language with their parents.

My name is Amisha Himanshu Ghadiali. My parents made up the name Amisha, from putting Ami (a common Indian name) together with sha (a common Indian name ending) Actually I think some of my family refused to call me Amisha because it was too modern, and so always call me Ami (pronounced ‘Umi’) Until a few years ago it was still a very unusual name, then a girl from Canada whose parents had the same idea, won Miss World and became the Bollywood movie star Amisha Patel. Now there are many babies and little girls called Amisha. I LOVE my name now and I strongly identify with it, but when I was a little girl, I really hated that I couldn’t get stickers, pens, badges and mugs with my name on and actually went through a phase of insisting everybody call me Amy! Amisha means somebody who spreads the sweetest elixir of the heavens where ever she goes. Which is an amazing name meaning to carry, and also makes for a funny conversation when someone asks the meaning. I think that my parents choose this in part due to some of the events leading up to my birth. I choose this as the name for my jewellery label, because it perfectly sums up what I am trying to do with my jewellery, create pieces that make the wearer feel amazing and spread that joy.

Himanshu, my middle name means the Moon. It’s my father’s name, that’s how Indian names work, you have your father’s first name as your middle name, and then when you marry you take on your husband’s first name as your middle name. So for example, my mother is Hema Himanshu Ghadiali, and my father is Himanshu Nautambhai Ghadiali. It relates back to an Indian sense of ownership, so I suppose the feminist in me, would oppose this way of naming. But the Indian in me, that respects her father, thinks it is actually quite nice. This however, is something that I have come to feel later in life, at school, I was so upset that I had a boys name, and once tried to change it to my mum’s causing all kinds of offense I was not aware of! Of course, the silly thing is, that it didn’t matter, nobody at my school could tell if Himanshu was a male or female name. But it illustrates one of the confusions of growing up in mixed cultures.

Ghadiali is another interesting story. The family name on my father’s side was actually Sanghavi, Sangh means clan who takes a group of people on pilgrimage. Somewhere in our family someone fairly wealthy has taken their local community on a spiritual pilgrimage, and so we were given this as our family name. My Great Grandfather opened a watch shop, as ghadial is the Gujarati word for watch, the shop name became Ghelabhai Ghadiali but his family name remained Sanghavi. When my grandfather took over the shop, he and one of his brothers changed their surname to Ghadiali, whilst the other two brothers kept their original one. This means that today half of the family are called Ghadiali and half Sanghavi, although there are more Ghadiali’s now due to the number of sons that were born with this name. The other thing about our surname is that although it has this personal relevance to our family, it is not obvious to others that we are a Jain family. The name is more common for muslim families, and I wonder if it has played a part in how often my brother has been searched and questioned since the War of Terror was launched a decade ago.

On thinking of how we use our names in 2011, with the rise in popularity of twitter, and other social media that make us all some kind of brand, I thought it would be interesting to ask some of my twitter friends to share stories on their name. I picked people who I know personally and are either friends or people who I have worked with, but who also have interesting twitter feeds. I asked them to send me 140 words, although some kept it as short as a tweet and sent just 140 characters, answering a number of questions about their name, how they got it, how they feel about it, if they would/have changed it, if it has given them purpose and why they use the twitter handle that they do.

In reverse alphabetical order of twitter handles, here is what they shared:

@ZoeRobinson1 – Zoe Robinson, Ethical stylist / Image Consultant, founder of Think Style and ethical fashion writer

Zoe, meaning ‘life’ in Greek and Robinson, meaning ‘son of robin’. My Mum chose short names for my sister Amy (‘love’) and I to spare us the horrors of shortened nicknames that she disliked in her youth. It didn’t stop anyone being creative with mine – nicknames included Zo, Zoro, Zo-zo to Zoz (still used by school friends) Growing up I loved the feeling of individuality that I didn’t know anyone else called Zoe. As the years passed I realised there with some disappointment there were in fact other Zoes (and Zoe Robinsons!) As my professional name will always be Zoe Robinson, I wouldn’t have a problem taking my partners name if I were to get married. Twitter name is ZoeRobinson1 – the one without the ‘1’ had gone but I was keen to have a simple, recognisable profile name.

@zara_arshad – Zara Arshad, Designer. Regional Greening Manager (NE Asia) for the British Embassy. Based in Beijing.

My first name is “Zara,” which varies in meaning from “princess,” “radiant” and “flower.” I do not know why I was assigned this name, although my grandfather prefers to call me “Safeena” (my middle name which he gave to me). I am told “Safeena” means “Noah’s Ark.” I am not sure if my surname, “Arshad,” has a specific meaning or relevance to the community I grew up in. I do like my name; I have never changed it, nor been bullied for it. Nicknames include “Z” (pronounced “zee”), and Zazu (as in the bird from The Lion King). When I marry, I do intend to take on my partner’s name, however, I still envision myself practising as a designer under “Zara Arshad.” My Twitter username is my real name, as I thought it was important to retain my identity for self-marketing purposes.

@upcylclefashion – Julia Roebuck, Communicating the importance of sustainability through design and education to inspire creativity & responsibility.

My Mum was a massive fan of the 80’s TV series Brideshead Revisited and Julia was the name of the main female character. Faye was another name she liked. My surname is also the name of a woodland deer. I like going to pubs that are called The Roebuck. Julia isn’t a really common name and I was the only Julia in school, but I liked that and was never bullied for it. As a reference to Drew Barrymore’s character in the film The Wedding Singer, people still call me Julia Goolia, but I am also known as Juju, Goo and Jules. If I ever get married I would find it hard to change my name. I would only insist on keeping Roebuck if my boyfriend was called Mr. Goolia. My twitter name is Upcycle- Fashion because that is the name of my business.

@TaraRumba – Tara Scott, Ethical fashion purveyor, campaigns coordinator for ShoreditchSistersWI Enviro and WomensRights/workers rights Activist. Lover of peace and equality x

My name means star in hindi, sacred hill in gaelic, and the bird that flies at the top of the flock in mauri. Dad named me, he’s Irish so thats why, quite an Irish name. Mum wntd 2 call me Bonnie. Scott just means Scottish I think?

@SamTarry – Sam Tarry, Former National Chair of Young Labour. Councillor in Chadwell Heath, Barking & Dagenham. @LeicesterTigersFan! Full-time Anti-Racism Campaigner for @hopenothat

Samuel: ancient Hebrew meaning the anointed one. Tarry: a very old English name (Tarry’s at battle of Naseby) originating in Leicestershire

@PetronellaT – Petronella Tyson

My Scottish mother used to dance the Petronella in her youth, and whilst walking when she was heavily overdue with me she jumped off a stile. As she did, she twisted like you do in the dance: lo & behold I popped out!
My name is important to me; for years I shortened it to Petro as the full version seemed too adult, too serious. Now, I have grown into it and I love it as a 27-year-old woman. Like most of us, I can’t imagine being called anything else, and people I meet from handymen to clients always remark what a lovely name it is, which is a great icebreaker. I hope to continue it with my own children someday. My name is Petronella Rose Tyson and to me, they (my parents) did a good job.

@PennyRed – Laurie Penny, Writer, journalist, feminist, reprobate. Working mainly for the New Statesman. Tweets are in a personal capacity.

Laura Aisia Penny, but everyone has called me ‘Laurie’ since I was 15. My middle name, which I adopted at an early age, is a feminisation of my father’s jewish tribal name- ‘from the tribe of asher’. I was going to be named Jenny. My parents call me Laura and my little sisters call me Lozzie. Laurie is the name I use professionally and with my friends. I took my mother’s surname when I was 16. I said it was because I wanted to make a feminist statement. That was only part of the reason, I was already planning to be a journalist and I hated my previous surname. I would never take my partner’s name if I got married. Penny red is the name I started blogging under. It’s my surname and the general drift of my politics, but it’s also a stamp- like stamping my mark on the world. Having a name that wasn’t quite mine to write under when I started out made me braver about saying what I really thought!

@orsoladecastro – Orsola de Castro, Founder and creative director of upcycling label From Somewhere, co founder and co curator of Estethica at LFW, mother of 4.

Orsola de Castro means (roughly) little bear from the castle.Orsola is a family name, very typical Venetian.I have never had a nickname, I have not being bullied for it and I have never changed it.Married 3 times, always kept my surname. I like my name, it suits me.

@ogunte – Servane Mouazan, Founder Ogunte+GlobalTribalNetwork. #Women#SocInn Developer+Activist | Talks: Social Leadership#SocEnt, Soc Justice, #Capoeira

My name is Servane Mouazan. St Servan was an Irish bishop who evangelized parts of Scotland and came over to Brittany around the 6th century. It’s now the name of a city and it means serf, servant. No one ever gave me any nickname or bullied me for this name. My last name is Aramaic (semitic language) for Moses and in Arabic countries, they refer to the Muezzin, the chosen person at a mosque  who leads the call to prayer. Around 300 people have this name in France nowadays. I love my name. I have never changed it, and don’t fancy bearing anyone else’s. Even my son uses my name first and then his father’s! My twitter name @ogunte is my orixa, a spirit I was born with. It’s also the name of my company. It’s a bit like my alter ego.

@noelito – Noel Hatch, Brings people together to innovate for social good

My name is Noel. I was called it because I was meant to be born around Christmas, although snuck out a few weeks earlier. And it was a name that is both used in English and French so avoided a good argument between my English dad and French mum 😉 In France, my name literally means Christmas, but mainly it reminds people that some Noels (Coward) are funnier than others (Edmunds). I had expected ever since I was born that being called Noel would mean everyone bearing just me with gifts, but I guess even people called Jesus don’t get that. I used to be called “Nono” when I was in France. My twitter name is noelito which I got called when I lived in Spain. I don’t use my real name to preserve the ambiguity, although I’m pretty authentic about that.

@Leonora_O – Leonora Oppenheim, Design Storyteller. Currently on adventures with Creative Data, TreeHugger, Cool Hunting + Stylus.

My parents are total opera geeks, thus…Operatic Leonora in Beethoven’s Fidelio disguises herself as a man to rescue her husband from jail, what romantic adventure! #whodareswins

@jessonyip – Jesson Yip, Design Creative specialising in digital and interaction design.

Jesson is a made up name, at least that’s what my parents told me, there just happens to be a street near where I grew up which bares the same name, but let’s not go there. Yip is the Cantonese for Ye, It means ‘leaf’ and is apparently the 42nd most common Chinese name, I’m glad my Hakka side took a back seat otherwise I would be a Yap. Part of me is a little envious of kids who get to pick their own Western name, although realistically, running with what seemed like a good idea when I was 12 might not be the best idea… It takes a little extra when meeting people, but I’ve never had any problems with it and it’s not spawned any nicknames unless J (‘jay’) counts, even my mom calls me that. I like my name and the fact that it’s a bit different without being long, it’s unique enough to mark my creations and use online for my website or twitter name for instance. It’s important to me personally, professionally and beyond, so I wouldn’t change it or take another.

@IamAvantikka – Avantika Rajam, Indian film actress, Direct Produce Later, L-O-V-E Films, Daddy’s li’l girl and a delightfully (if i may say so myself) Quirky bundle of contradiction

Avantikka means princess, and i have always been treated like one by my family. It means first blossom of the season, innocent optimism. Virtue or flaw? I prefer seeing the glass half full. It means daughter of the earth and I’m learning to stay grounded. The earth is always in a state of flux within even though it appears calm on the surface. Im too transparent. Avanti is the short ppl call me by.. Shakespeare said what’s in a name? Rose by any another would smell just as lovely.

@GreenSolitiare – Solitiare Townsend, This is what an environmentalist looks like (also tweets as Cofounder of @Futerra)

A diamond, Dodo, card game, old song, little bird, african village, board game, french loneliness, book, Bond girl and me.

@greenormal – John Grant, Author, Green Marketing Manifesto, Co-opportunity and other works, co-founder of greening the workplace startup @Ecoinomy

My name is John Grant which as my nan said approvingly is never shortened. But I always wanted to be Grant Johns – my beat poet alter ego.

@frucool – Ed Gillespie, Co-Founder of Futerra, global slow traveller, cyclist and a London Sustainable Development Commissioner

My full name is Edward Roger Martin Gillespie, although everyone knows me as ‘Ed’, bar my best friend Giles who for inexplicable reasons of his own prefers ‘Wood’. My middle names are my Grandfather’s first names, giving a nice inter-generational link. Embarrassingly my Dad’s name’s also Edward…so I am ‘Ed Junior’ an Americanism that makes me cringe. Gillespie’s West Coast of Scotland in origin, my great Grandfather hailing from a dock-working family in Glasgow, and means ‘Bishop’s Servant’ in Gaelic – a not particularly prestigious role given what Bishops probably used to do to their servants in those days! Poorly crafted double-negative jibes of ‘Gay-lesbian’ did occasionally ring around the playground. My Twitter name’s a neologism ‘frucool’, from conflating ‘frugal’ and ‘cool’, and about a ‘less is more’ lifestyle. This led to me being called a ‘twunt’ on my Guardian blog…

@DeepakChopra – Deepak Chopra

My name means light. I was given this name because I was born on Diwali: The Festival of Lights  Because of my name I pursue enlightenment.

@DeborahDoaneWDM – Deborah Doane, Director of the World Development Movement

My name is Deborah Doane. My dad simply wanted a double d name. ‘Doane’ actually means descendent of the black-haired one, which is appropriate as I have dark hair.  We suspect our name was anglicised when my Jewish family emigrated to Canada from Eastern Europe in the late 1800’s.  My family calls me “Debbie” which I hate. It reminds me of American cheerleaders. I was never bullied, but my name was often mimicked into songs – like the 80’s Chaka Khan Song “Debbie Doane, Debbie Doane, Debbie Doane let me rock you that’s all I wanna do.”  At University, I started using Deborah and it fits me much better. I didn’t take my partners name, as I’m a feminist and don’t agree with it.  On twitter I’m just DeborahDoaneWDM. I’m happy with transparency, no need to hind behind a moniker.

@Choolips – Annegret Affolderbach, Fashion & Textiles Designer / Sustainability Connoisseur Fashion-E-ditor {sustain} column @Tribaspace

Annegret means grace & pearl, which my mother liked most of my family shorten it to ‘Anne’, although not my favourite as its like having grace without the sparkle … Affolderbach / stems from way back when it described people that had apple orchards by a stream. The community I grew up in is not related. Shame really, would have loved to have grown up on an orchard. I have kept my name AND taken my husband’s and vice versa. Marriage to us is a celebration of the union of our different cultures & our individuality as people. On twitter I am @Choolips which is the name of my fashion brand. The tweets are my voice from within Choolips /my real name because the tweets are my truths & the other Choolips’ have their’s.

@caspertk – Casper ter Kuile, Connector, Creator, Campaigner. Lover of kale and polyphonic folk singing. Co-Founder @UKYCC.

Casper means ‘keeper of the treasure’ in farsi, i think – different enough to be memorable and familiar enough to roll off the tongue with ease.

@AmeliaGregory – Amelia Gregory, writer, photographer, art director, activist, twitter fiend & publisher of Amelia’s Magazine, Amelia’s Anthology of Illustration & #ACOFI

Amelia Vivonne Gregory. I think it comes from the word to ameliorate, to improve something. My second name comes from my Granny. My parents mostly call me Bedoolia or Amoolia. I’m not sure if I would take my partners name if I got married. Professionally I would definitely keep my own name. I’ve always thought it would be nice to bash the two together to make a new one, but possibly impractical. Because I use twitter professionally I decided it was a good idea to use my full real name – and also to stop anyone else using it.

@AlixFox – Alix Fox, Front Section Editor at Bizarre magazine and freelance writer/presenter. Puns of steel, buns prettily iced. Chirpier than a gargantuan aviary.

Though some mates call me Phallics Cocks, my name is Alix Fox – that’s ‘Alix’, with one ‘I’, like Cyclops. It’s actually spelled with an ‘e’ on my birth certificate by accident, which has caused problems with everything from bank accounts to university degrees to trying to cross a Cambodian border with a passport that didn’t match my visa. ‘Alexandra’ was a popular girls’ name in 1982 – the year I was born – and my parents didn’t spot that the administrator had made a mistake on my birth registration form. However, I still have the hospital wristband I was labelled with as a newborn, as well as the rather macabre shred of shrivelled, brown umbilical cord that was left over after my belly button was clamped – both of those read ‘Alix’, and that’s the name I identify with. I am ‘I’.

And last of all, my twitter name:

@amishaghadiali – Amisha Ghadiali, Designer.Writer.Creative Activist.Sustainable Fashion Advocate.Founder of @thinkactvote & amisha.co.uk Loves playing on swings, dancing barefoot and the ocean.

Sadly @amisha was taken by a girl who never tweets, so I thought about what else I could be that was easier to remember and spell. I thought of EleganceRebllion – easy to remember, but decided that tweeting was about personal conversations so I had to be me. I couldn’t think of a defining word to add to Amisha that says enough about me. And I can’t have Amisha G – due to unfortunate word that Sha and G make. So I decided just to do it, and that the twitter community could cope with learning Ghadiali, and they have. It probably makes it hard for people at events, but it’s not that hard to spell, and luckily, once you have it once, most phone apps save the name so you don’t have to keep typing it out.

I would like to thank all of you that shared your stories, I think that etymology over names really is just fascinating. I know that some people I asked wanted to contribute and didn’t have time this week, and that all of you reading have an interesting name story. So please share yours in the comment space.

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  • Rick Awdas

    @fezefairtrade.com -Feze is short for Fezekile which was suggested to a friend in South Africa who had called her son by this name. She said that Fezekile means ‘dream come true’ in Xhosa. Since my website was how I hoped to make my dreams come true, it fitted well. On the advice of friends I decided to shorten the name a little to make it more memorable and add Fair Trade to explain what the site is all about. Not sure if this was a good idea or not as it now makes me feel a bit pigeon holed. Great article, thanks for sharing. Rick