Friday, March 2, 2007

HTT, what's in a name?

Dear HTT,

I'm pregnant with my second child, and if it's a girl, my mother wants my husband and I to name the baby after her. The back-story is that my parents are from Greece and very traditional, and of course expect us to follow their long-lived Greek naming traditions. Now I'm all for preserving my heritage, which my parents consider to be under siege, and there are a number of Greek names that I love. But not my mother's.

Her name is Hariklia. The English pronunciation sounds like a cross between Hercules and Caligula. The Greek pronunciation is no better -- it sounds like you're trying to dislodge a Kalamata olive pit from your throat. Here's a testimony to its unpronouncability --- my mother came to live in North Carolina in 1968 and ever since she's been called Harriet. I know old lady names are in vogue these days, but I'll believe a Harriet comeback after I see Hortense top the charts first.

My parents have also alluded to cutting off our inheritance if we don't take their names. They once said to my brother, who had two girls and for better or worse chose to ignore their plea: "Ah, you do not like our names for your children, then maybe we do not like your names in our will." Given that I'm a lowly non-profit liege and my husband a seemingly interminable grad student, we don't want that to happen -- assuming we get more than a trunk of doilies, a statue of Aphrodite, and a rusty automatic lamb spit, that is.

Other than praying to the gods for a boy (thankfully my father's name is Nickolas), what do I do?

Nominally Challenged in North Carolina

Dear NC in NC,

I feel strongly that as parents, your first obligation is to do your best to ensure that your kid won’t get pounded on the playground. Or, at the very least, that she won’t be unintentionally showered with saliva by people who are trying in earnest to pronounce Hariklia. Your child is going to be saddled with whatever name you bestow upon her for her entire life. Or at least until she turns 18 and changes it to Hortense just to tick you off.

I respect your desire to honor your parents and preserve your heritage. I wish there had been a bit more of that in my family. My only connection to my German heritage is a love of bratwurst and a preference for saying "Gesundheit" over "God bless you." But I don’t wish my parents had named me Brunhild, which is German for "armored warrior woman." Or even that they’d named me Shirley, which was the name of my grandmother, whom I loved more than almost anyone else in the entire world. Not even to honor her would I want that name to be my own. (Sorry to any of you Shirleys out there.)

Now this is all very easy for me to say, I realize, because Hariklia isn’t my mother and I don’t have any children. And I don’t know what kind of inheritance we’re talking about. For the sake of family harmony and your chance to own a lamb spit, could you satisfy your mother by using Hariklia as your daughter’s middle name? Remind her that she's been called Harriet for the last 40 years because no one could pronounce Hariklia. The name "Harriet" doesn’t do much to trumpet anyone’s Greekness, does it?

I think you need to stand firm on this, NCNC. Or pray for a boy.

Good luck!


Anonymous said...

I was just wondering what the grandmothers' names were -- any better? Would that make mom happy?

Suzanne said...

I checked with the person who sent this question and, yes, it turns out her grandmother had a lovely name: Victoria. The letter writer actually did ask Hariklia about using Victoria, but Hariklia did not express much interest.

Anonymous said...

I know a Harriet who is a wonderful and gentle soul; as a result, I now automatically associate this name with beauty and kindness. Perhaps somewhere in there mom is worried that refusal to name a grandchild after her is an unspoken reflection of her own child's (negative) feelings toward her. Why not gently reassure mom, and maybe even honor her by naming the child Harriet? (Now, if you don't like the name Harriet either, perhaps just reassure mom that she is a blessing and leave it at that.)

Anonymous said...

My sides hurt from the letter writer's words, but not her dilemma. My own mother opined during one of my pregnancies that it would be really wonderful to honor my father, with whom, by the way, I had a very rocky relationship, by using his name, Edmund. She was put off with a simple "hmm, I don't think so" and cutting me out of her will would not have been a threat should she have mentioned it, as she had very modest means. But I have to agree with Suzanne that your daughter will have to live with her name for at least 18 years, and navigate the horrors of the saliva.

Suzanne, sorry you don't feel a connct with your German heritage. Brunhilde was never an option, and perhaps your parents were experiencing ethnic guilt over the German role in the Holocaust.