Thursday, September 29, 2005

What's in a name?

Because my last blog entry was so lame and unorganized, I figured I owed it to everyone to post a decent piece (although the information in the last entry is very exciting, I might add).

The reason for this post, also, is that on the drive home from church we started talking about what was discussed during Theology 101 (adult Sunday school) and my husband wanted to know why I had not given such a great and elaborate answer to the following discussion as I just did in the car. So I will impart these words of “wisdom” to you. The topic ended up on names. I believe the original question had something to do with why Simon was changed to Peter (herein referred to as Petros just in case my dad ever reads my blog he won’t be offended (his name is Petros… but more on my dad in a second). First, Father pointed out that my dad, Petros, came up to him at the end of the service and asked why Father referred to Simon as Simon and not Petros (and my dad probably pointed out to Father Theodore, for the millionth time, that St. Petros is the only apostle that Christ named during his earthly ministry or something like that). And Father Theodore gave a reasonable enough answer to my dad, I am sure.
So what is in a name? Greeks have a tendency to be very “in” to their names. According to my husband, he has never seen someone so into their own name as my dad. My dad feels a kinship to St. Petros… as if they share the same struggles and are the same people. And this probably has something to do with the fact that in my family the name Petros goes back many, many generations. In fact, our family church is named Agios Petros. And no one knows how old the church really is (but we do know that the new addition on my grandparents home is 400 years old… ahem… that’s the NEW addition). So let’s say that the name Petros has been in my family for 600 years. That’s 600 years of my ancestors praying to St. Petros, celebrating the feast day of Sts. Petros and Pavlos, naming their first born sons Petros. No wonder my dad is so keen on his own name AND on his patron saint. And that goes for many Greek families that I grew up with… the names are all repeated through generations. Antique icons are passed down of these saints from generation to generation. Churches are built for these saints. Name days are huge family events (because half your cousins have the same name as you) celebrating these saints. And it’s not looked on as weird or funny to name a child after a particular saint if a miracle has occurred in your life through prayers to that saint. It’s like naming that child after a favorite great aunt or uncle. Our son’s middle name is after St. Nektarios because of the easy pregnancy I had with him (when doctors predicted a horrible pregnancy because of some health problems I have).
Now I don’t want to glorify Greece (because I have lived there and been there numerous times and I see the Western influences that have crept into this beautiful country). And I don’t know much about other Orthodox practices. But it seems to me that in the U.S., we have a tendency to name our children after the latest Disney character. What kind of a name is that to live up to? Or, I have heard people say that they like a name because it sounds nice. Where’s the history? Granted, there are many people that do use family names (which I think is a beautiful tradition). But my mom, who used to work in the labor room, would come home with the most hysterical stories of names people have given to their children.
Anyway, this post is already getting to long. We do hope to continue the tradition of using the name Petros in our family, if we are having a boy. Pavlos is named after his grandpa (my father in law). Let us all live up to the name that either we have been given or we have chosen for ourselves!


Karl Thienes said...

I've gotten a small bit of flack about naming our daughter Kirsten since it isn't an instantly recognizable Orthodox name.

We loved the name Kirsten, both because it is beautiful, but also because it means "Christian" or "anointed one" which is perfect, considering how the anointing of St. John's oil played a role in Kristen's miracle birth.

Also, a number of people don't really understand the etymology of names and a fair number of converts tend to disdain their western sounding names as "less Orthodox" which is a shame. Almost all "western" names are derivations of more recognizably Christian names and have deep and important linguistic histories of their own. There are very few cases where one couldn't make their given name their baptismal name.

The exception is, of course, Colby. Nobody should ever be named Colby. (Just kidding! I just hate that name!)

Christina said...

My name has the same meaning as Kirsten's:) so is her name day on Christmas? That's mine (although people make the assumption that it is St. Christina which is in July). And Colby is not a name... it's a cheese:)

Karl Thienes said...

Technically, yes, her name day would be Christmas.

But I think we decided to actually celebrate her name day on June 19/July 2 on St. John (Ioanna) Maximovitch's feast day.

And her other middle name (Anysia) is celebrated Dec 30th. So maybe she'll have 3 name day cakes to eat! :)

jon said...

I was looking at your posts about american cancer society and found a good article about the same american cancer society info too...

God luck with it : )