What’s in a name?*
All parents know that naming a child can set in motion all kinds of precedents. A bad name or one that is not appropriate given the cultural surroundings within which a child grows up, can be catastrophic.
And next come the easily-made assumptions that may be formed from someone’s name. This is simply human nature: we see a name and immediately we try and decipher the person’s ethnic background.
In our own cultural melting pot of Cyprus we have a number of ethnicities: Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Maronites, Latins, Armenians, among others. And naturally many of us have learnt to distinguish an ethnicity/identity by name, for example the very characteristic –ian of Armenian surnames.
Having recently read a very compelling passage in the book ‘Echoes from the Dead Zone: Across the Cyprus Divide’,* I began to think about my own name and how it did and continues to impact my own identity. In the book, author Yiannis Papadakis talks about the few Turkish Cypriots he had met living in the south, homing in on the fact that some ‘chose names to render their children invisible’.
My own name, Naile Natalie Hami, has its own story to tell, which I’ll come to later.
Most of my life, I have simply been known as Natalie Hami, which has avoided much confusion and allowed me to fly under the radar unnoticed as a Turkish Cypriot in the south.
However when I began to come face to face with my own identity, I started to think about the impression that these names may give. Naile Hami may conjure up images of a Middle Eastern woman, whereas Natalie Hami may conjure up the complete opposite image. One name may point eastward and the other westward. Natalie Hami may go unnoticed within a number of European societies at least, but Naile Hami will be questioned more closely, at least in Cyprus.
Coming back to Papadakis, my own names didn’t actually come about from a desire to hide me or render me invisible within Greek Cypriot society; however in some ways it did serve that purpose. It was simply a way to bring together two very different cultures: that of my Irish mother’s who wanted a modern name for her daughter and that of my father’s family who wanted a grandchild to be named after her great grandmother.
My name, like me, is the product of a mixed marriage; a compromise and a way to depict the many facets of who I am and who we all are.
*’What’s in a name?’ is a Shakespearean quote from the play Romeo and Juliet. The full quote is as follows:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
*Echoes from the Dead Zone: Across the Cyprus Divide by Yiannis Papadakis. Published in 2005 by I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd
- Our dialects
- Why I decided to relearn Turkish
People tend to put other people in boxes based on their names. However, sometimes they place the into the wrong box.
And then there is the impact of changing our names, especially when it runs against the cultural grain. I changed my middle name to my wife Sylvia’s last name when we got married. Since men don’t traditionally do that, I was met with shocked amazement by the people at the Passport office, the Driver’s License bureau, and many more. Names are very powerful. It started with Adam in the Garden…
Hi Bill and thank you for sharing this with us! This is definitely something that goes against the grain but if someone feels like doing it and it doesn’t harm others why not. I think it sends a very powerful message.
Tha ithela na euxaristhsw thn Natalie gia to parapanw post. Se proswpikh bash, spoudasa sthn Ouggaria , gnorisa diafores ethnikothtes, koultoures , onomata. Afhnontas omws ola ta exoterika xaraktiristika , gnorizontas kalhtera ton kathe anthropo eswterika , kanontas tous filous. Mirastikame polla to einai mas. Eidame pws auta pou mas xwrizan htan auta pou sto telos ths hmera mas enwnan.
Pio panw prospathisa na diatyposw thn dikh optikh gonia , autwn pou exei grapsh h Natalie. Euxaristw.