The Name Therapist

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

The Name TherapistI saw Duana Taha’s book in the Ontario Library Association’s gift shop at a recent conference. It was the only book among many presumably scrumptious reads that captured my attention enough to compel me to handle it physically, reading the flaps of the dust jacket and chunks of page wherever my leafing would take me.  I requested it from the library within days of our spark of an encounter, and soon after had my hands on a copy of the book for three glorious weeks.  The Name Therapist is nominated for the 2017 Evergreen Award, and although my impression is coloured by my own predilection (being a so-called ‘name-nerd’), I can understand why it is deserving of the recognition.  As Hermione Granger would say, names have power, and everybody has a story to tell about the name that they were given.

When I was ten, I remember going to my local library on an impassioned quest to learn more about names and their meanings.  A teacher had revealed (to my delight and astonishment) that names are mere placeholders for a bounty of unseen riches.  Names have a historic and linguistic heritage, a meaning, and a story.  I dutifully performed a search on the topic in the catalog and to my horror discovered that the only books to do with name meanings were baby name books. I couldn’t bring them up to the counter, that would have been mortifying. Maybe there were other books, but I had reached the extent of my existing research skills, and these were days before I’d ever heard the expression to ‘google it.’

I went home empty-handed that day.  And although I did find a handful of baby name books that my mum hadn’t thrown away and read those in secret, I felt that the authors lacked the same passion I had for names for names’ sake – it was all about choosing what on earth to put down when you filled out the birth certificate application (the naming of a child).  At long last, Duana Taha has created the book: a book devoted to names, purely because names are boss.  Duana is comical, insightful, and a great storyteller.  We disagree about the importance of what a name means (I think the meaning is like an amazing treasure that each name secretly holds, waiting to be unearthed; Duana thinks it is unimportant and that the appeal of name’s sound should determine its merit).  She may have a point, but I have difficulty sweeping a name’s meaning aside with the same confident indifference as she does (not that it isn’t admirable).  I’ve always loved the name Rebecca, for example, and may well have given it to my daughter if it weren’t for the fact that it means bound.  I wanted my girl to having anything but a bound life.  I chose a name meaning muse instead (Arwen).  Why can’t a girl have everything?  To be clear, Rebeccas are no more intrinsically bound than Claudines are lame; one of my best friends is a Claudine and she is the complete opposite of lame, both in the literal and in the vernacular.  Sometimes a name’s meaning has the propensity to propel a person in the opposing direction – so who’s to say?

I enjoyed the stories in The Name Therapist tremendously, particularly the bit on the names of her extended relatives and the revelation that her parents have the two MOST COMMON names in the world and had elected to give her one of the least common names.  I couldn’t keep my righteous vindication in check when I read the segment on the practice of naming children after a line of relatives with the exactly the same name -something I heartily oppose.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, but for me it was a dream-come-true book.  I’ve been indignant since I was a ten-year-old that this book didn’t exist, and now it does.  Thank you universe (and thanks Duana).

What’s your name’s story?

2 thoughts on “The Name Therapist

  1. Isn’t it so exciting when you happen upon THE BOOK that answers all your wishes (at least regarding one particular topic)? I agree wholeheartedly about names having power – it’s so much a part of one’s identity that I feel as though any willed pretending that your name doesn’t influence who you are at all simply reinforces its power over you.

  2. I was a tad incredulous as a ten-year-old when I couldn’t find a book about names that didn’t have to do with babies (no offense to babies – they’re adorable), but it made this book quite a find! I was the only ‘Victoria’ I was aware of growing up, but now we’re everywhere! What can I say? The secret’s out; “you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake” (Chuck Palahniuk). Taha does impress the unavoidable impact of a name’s obscurity or commonality. Names absolutely have power. But be ye a ‘Michael Johnson’ or a ‘Phoenix Quatroocci,’ the interesting thing is that the bearer of the name has power, too. It’s inevitably a clash of powers. To overcome the averageness or improbability of a name – how do you do that? This is exactly how names effect identities with such interesting outcomes.

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