What’s in a Name?

In the UK, there’s been an amusing piece of news referred to as “the caterpillar wars”. This relates to one premium brand store suing a budget brand store for producing a similar caterpillar birthday cake to their own. The premium brand store’s product is known as Colin, whereas the budget brand store named their offering Cuthbert. I read and commented about this story on a blog, stating I was confused that the names appeared to be the wrong way round – an ordinary name for the premium brand and a posh name for the budget. The blog’s American author responded by asking how on earth she – and others non-Brits – could understand the nuances around the UK’s class status of names… and she made a very good point. It’s not one I’m going to delve into today, but it did make me wonder… what’s in a name?

My given name is Debra – a derivation of the Hebrew Devorah meaning Bee. Both the Hebrew faith and Christianity focus on the bee’s symbolism for busyness, for order, on the importance of work and diligence and how those qualities contribute to the community as a whole. From animal symbolism, while the bee stands for a strong work ethic, it is also about knowing the importance of stopping and smelling the flowers, about finding the delicate balance between the two. One further aspect I especially liked is that, from an aerodynamic perspective, bees should not be able to fly… yet they do. Thus they act as a reminder that, despite having limitations, we can move past them successfully. On a final note, there’s also mention of bee charms being good luck for attracting wealth.

The wealth attraction aside, all of the above resonates with me and how I view myself, as does the Hindi meaning of my name which is “to speak kind words” – something I try to do as much as possible.

That leads me onto the second half of the question I wanted to ask – does the choice of name matter?

I never liked my formal name and for most of my life, it’s only been used by school teachers or when I’m in trouble with my parents. Although my family called me Debs, I was known as Debbie for the greater part of my life. Until I had my mid-life crisis that is (shortly after my 50th birthday), when it felt important to be called Debs. To me Debbie was that worker bee – all organising and industry, entirely lacking in joy and freedom, something I wanted more of (a lot more of) in my life. I was interested to note another friend recently using a new derivative of her name following her divorce, so I’m clearly not alone in making a link. As a result of this name to-ing and fro-ing, I’m now called a mix of names, so that any attempt at leaving a voicemail message using my name(s) results in disaster, as I end up sounding utterly demented or like someone with a multiple personality disorder.

The funny thing is that I’m coming to terms with the versions of my name I’d previously discarded. For some reason, Debra seemed the right choice for my copyright – something about it being formal, legal and serious probably – and I’m growing to like it more & more. Debbie is still probably my least favourite option, or it was until my granddaughter discarded “Grandma”, preferring to just yell “Debbie!” at me. Himself has a pet name for me – the first relationship ever when this has been the case – but introduces me as Deb. Debs or Deb remain my preferred options, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the choice of derivative doesn’t really matter much at all. In terms of the meaning of my name, the derivatives have the same meaning as the full name, and the derivative used probably relates to how you know me or when you met me, rather than anything more weighty. What really matters is how I feel about myself, and if choosing one form of my name over another helped me make a positive change, then it’s been a useful tool.

I’ll happily answer to any form of my name now. There’s no tightening of shoulders, no worry about being in trouble, no feeling dragged down by some requirement of living up to my busy bee name. There’s clearly some benefits to getting older and while I’ll not claim wisdom in many things, I’m grateful there has been some progress.

Do you know the meaning of your name? Is there a story behind its choice? Does it form part of how you view yourself?


Β© Debra Carey, 2021

19 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

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  1. Despite the fact that I always sign off as David, am introduced by most people as David, there are a number of people who will always call me Dave. I’m beginning to recognise the signs surrounding such people… What is even more interesting is the small number of people who pick up on the fact I’ve been introduced as Dave by one such, and take the time to ask me what I’d prefer.

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  2. My late Mother was convinced that ‘Alan’ could not be shortened or changed. Boy was she wrong! I have also become used to having to spell my forename as there are some pretty weird attempts made from time to time. As for the surname … just don’t go there.

    The meaning of Alan is, apparently, uncertain, though I have seen claims that it is Celtic for chieftain. I take that with more than a grain of salt.

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  3. I think both of us are content with my late Father’s tolerance: “I don’t mind what you call me as long as you don’t call me late for lunch.”

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  4. I’m sorry David, but this made me actually LOL πŸ™‚ You are so NOT a Dave, but I know exactly what you mean about being able to recognise someone who’ll ignore the name by which you introduced yourself. So much so, in fact, that the laughter was caused by my visualising your face when it happens.

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  5. And you’re so NOT an Al, Alan! πŸ˜€ I know I’ve been guilty of getting the surname wrong on occasion too.

    My brother was to be called Blaise for the same “couldn’t be shortened” reason, until my American mother-in-law pointed out the likelihood that he’d be called Red. I think the second choice suits him better – I don’t see Blaise suiting a rugby front row.

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  6. I’m a Deborah who was a Debbie, growing up. Yes, I know it means “Bee” in Hebrew. My mom loved Debbie Reynolds, hence my name. I much preferred to go by Deb when I got older…being called Debbie reminds me of my awkward childhood self too much. My late husband liked to call me Dee. I like the sound of the Debs option…may go for that one day.

    Deb

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  7. When it comes to a multitude of names, I always think of that great Beatles line from Rocky Raccoon: “Her name was Magill and she called herself Lil; And everyone knew her as Nancy.” I worked with so many people like that with formal names and related shortened names that weren’t even closely aligned. I suppose it made them more interesting.

    The thing I worry about is getting too familiar when using someone’s nickname. Saying “Debs” infers that I’ve known you for a long time, while Deb doesn’t. There’s a neighbor of ours named Anne who I mistakenly called “Annie” once, and she politely corrected that was for close friends only. Oops.

    My name is Martin, which apparently comes from the Latin “Martinus,” who was the Roman god of War. I can’t even begin to even try and relate to that. Nor, I assume did Martin Luther King. But then MLK probably didn’t go by “Marty” as I do. Names are complicated.

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  8. What interesting questions. My name, Jane, apparently means God is gracious. I’m quite sure my parents gave me that name because they liked it, not because of its meaning. And as nice a meaning as it is, it has most decidedly had no bearing on how I view myself. Now I’m wondering just how it might have done! 😏

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  9. Very interesting. My given name is Janet but when I was about 20 I was taking a medical assisting course and someone told me I should shorten it to Jan so if a doctor needed me in a hurry he only had to say one syllable. I don’t know why I listened to that person but I started calling myself Jan for the next 35 years. When I started my transcription business I decided I wanted to go back to being Janet and that’s what I did. It’s funny that people who have known me since high school all call me Janet but people I met through my husband all call me Jan and are confused when they hear my full name. I like Janet better. Side note, I have three sisters and all of our names start with “J”.

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  10. Oh that’s so funny Deb, I was also named for Debbie Reynolds (my mother was named for Shirley Temple so she wanted to carry on the film star tradition). How interesting that you share my experience of how past life memories can become attached to a name and that simply making a small pivot to a different derivative can make such a difference.

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  11. Marty, I love Rocky Roccoon πŸ™‚ and that is indeed a fabulous line!

    What an interesting perception about the Debs/Deb thing, and not one I’ve ever considered either.

    God of War eh? No wonder you went for Marty instead – even if you did so without knowing.

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  12. I didn’t know that about your name Jane. Certainly a tricky one if you’re not religious. Me, I like the idea of it being more about grace – not so much as in graceful movement – but as in behaving with it, which is something I have always aspired to do.

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  13. Oh my Janet, talk about making putting doctors on even higher pedestals than ever!

    I have very different impressions of Jan and Janet as names – to me Janet sounds softer, gentler, more nurturing – which I like πŸ™‚ No idea where I got that from, but I do know that my impression of Jan as the opposite comes from the few I’ve met being rather separate and hands-off, polite but less friendly. Funny what we associate with names!

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  14. My legal name is Alice. I spent most of my childhood being mocked with it because kids made fun of me being in wonderland. It hurt my feelings. I now use my nickname most of the time because I’d rather think of myself as your friend here to help you than being a girl who tumbled into an alternative world. Although in some ways the blogosphere is an alternative world, isn’t it?

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  15. Ally, it’s interesting how many of us have navigated away from our childhood names as we no longer want to be reminded of those associations. I’d not considered how that aspect would resonate when I first scribbled out my thoughts.

    I’d not thought of the blogsphere as wonderland, but in many ways it can be just that. Oh & I like the name Alice – I had a rather gorgeous redhead aunt called Alice. She was wise enough to divorce my Uncle! πŸ˜‰

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