I confess that the name Nietzsche is what drew me into reading him. And I much preferred the music of Beethoven to anybody else’s despite the fact that my music teacher insisted I was better at playing Bach. I believe that names are important. Imagine you happen to buy a copy of Crime and Punishment and it’s written by Martin Smiths instead of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. You might think it is about hammering down some historical buildings, might you not?
When I was in my secondary school we were told to call our teachers with the title of Mr. or Mrs. My favorite teacher was called Mr. Gilbert. I would feel guilty to say that I don’t remember his first name now even though I admired him a lot at that time. Then when I went to the university, we were allowed to call teachers by their first names, Georgia, David, and Paul etc. I called my favorite teacher a plain ‘Sarah’ like I was calling my friends.
I have many different names myself. I have a name in my Birth certificate, which was made by my dad. When I was a kid my dad thought that my name could arouse a bit of cold feeling to be called in winter, so he then made me a winter name that sounds much tender and soft. And my friends made various nicknames for me. Some are just short version of the full name, some are the combination of my and other’s name, and some are not related to my original name at all. It is interesting to see how all these names have different feelings. Naturally it largely depends on who calls it, and how, but each name brings about not only different but also some particular feelings.
In Korea we call someone in various ways. We can call someone by full name like Lee Chang Dong – the Koreans put our family name first. Until we come of age we are called mostly by our first names that are added with ah or ya at the end. For example, if your first name is Sang Wha, you are called ‘Sang Wha ya’ and if it is Mi Ryong, ‘Mi Ryong ah.’ It depends on how the name finishes, with vowel or with consonant. Then we are called by our first name only, like Chang Dong but formally with ssi at the end, like Chang Dong ssi, that kind of means both Mr and Ms. There are some respect forms adding to the names like nim or sonsaengnim. When you would like to call someone who is below your age with respect you can put nim after the name like Lee Chang Dong nim, and for those your superior in age who are respectful we put sonsaengnim like Lee Chang Dong sonsaengnim. Sonsaengnim, combination word of Sonsaeng and nim originally means ‘teacher’ and the highest form of respect, but nowadays we use that word more broadly and tend to call people we respect or those socially respectful people. People feel flattered when they are called by their full name with sonsaengnim at the end.
In Arabic when they address a person they use ya (يا). It should come before the name, so it is not optional, like ‘How are you, ya Layla.’ In Spanish, names are much longer. They normally have two sets of first name and two sets of family name. My Spanish-speaking friend in my secondary school told me that she fancied (something like) ‘Jose Antonio Gonzalez Marquez.’ I was like what you like both Jose and Antonio? They usually put their parents’ names in their own names. The weird and wonderful Spanish artist we know as Salvador Dali’s original name is Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dali i Domenech! They also have nicknames using diminutives. One I knew was called Isa, but sometimes she was called Chavelita or simply Bela and her ‘real’ name, of course, was Isabel.
South American countries like to put ‘ito’ or ‘ita’ at the end of their names, which means ‘smaller’ but is used for expressing something with affection. Chica is a Spanish word for a girl, and Chiquita is a small girl, but it does not necessarily mean that she is under aged. It is just used to show the affection for the girl and perhaps to indicate a certain femininity of the girl. Russians have various forms of naming too. Maria is called Masha between close relationships. Then there is Machenka or Marusya when they are even more intimate. It is always so marvelous to see how every language has their own special styles in naming.
In an article in the Science section of Guardian in 2007 it was reported that apparently baby girls with “very feminine names, such as, Anna, Emma or Elizabeth, are less likely to study math or physics after the age of 16.” In this respect we can say that the naming now seems to be considered as more and more important part of our social background, recognition and status.
I have never yet met anyone from the States who’s named after Alfie, and yet it used to be the most popular name for boys in the UK. The name Charlie also is popular for both men and women. I remember when I met someone in London and I said my name was Cha, he did not get it straightaway but when I said “Well… Call me Charlie if you want” he started to call me by Charlie ever since.
Names can reveal much information about the owner of the name, like where he/she is from, what background he/she is from, and sometimes it even gives strong aura whether he/she is strong or fragile minded. Studies show that names even affect the shaping of one’s personality. Sometimes you say you really are so ‘John-like’ whatever that means, or you really are ‘not like Natasha’ whatever that means.
Naming has a far more important and special meaning in one’s life in Korea. Name always has some serious meaning. I think naming a person is something like titling a book or a film, except that you don’t get to choose. Maybe that is one of reasons why it is popular in Korea to go to the naming house to change one’s name later when someone feels that he/she is not in good luck in life or couples going to fortunetellers to know whether they are ‘compatible’ through looking at their names. Two of my cousins changed their names too and I could never get that.
My name has a meaning too. It’s after one of the mountain ranges in Korea that can be seen far from the house I was born. Far-fetched or not, perhaps that is why sometimes I can be quite idealistic in my thoughts? I often feel that things people highly praise don’t touch my heart. I look for something that is not just good but has to be the ONE! Although I much prefer rivers and seas to mountains, maybe someday I will need to move into mountainside and start contemplating as they do in Korea. Maybe then, I would become a person with the capacity for embracing life in my wide arms and soothing other people. Perhaps then I will be able to appreciate ‘good’ as good and not only ‘the best’ as good (!)