There is a family in northeast Pennsylvania who wanted the bakery at their local ShopRite supermarket to make a cake for their son and they were upset that the store refused to put their child’s name in the frosting. They went public thinking that they would get some sympathy–all they wanted, after all, was for their son to celebrate his birthday as other children do–but the compassion wasn’t forthcoming. Clearly this is one of those stories that necessitates an understanding of ALL of the facts. So here they are: the child’s name is Adolph Hitler Campbell. (Pictured in the photo is JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, Adolph’s younger sister, and the father.) Keep in mind that “Adolph Hitler” is just a name; nothing more than a unique vocalization that creates a sound that others can recognize as descriptor for, in this case, another person. But most of us don’t look at it like this particular name because attached to the sound of Adolph Hitler are some very dark associations.
This reminds me that Adolph is one of those names that has been pretty much stricken from the list of options in all but white supremacist communities. It used to be a pretty common German name, and a nice one at that. But the actions of one man ruined it for all of the future Adolphs of the world. Osama is another, unless you run with certain crowds. And while many Hispanics name their boys Jesus, how many English speakers refer to their son by the same name as the being who Christians consider to be the “Son of God”? “Come up here Jesus and clean your room like I told you.” That sounds like the start of a good joke. Why does that somehow work in one culture but not another? Nobody thinks twice about Jesus the Mexican taxi driver or Krishna the Indian waiter.
Like the fish that can’t comprehend the water that is all around it, most of us miss the chance to see the funny and ironic connections between names and meanings in our own culture. If I said that Bulgarians are prone to naming one another after trees and that Oak, Maple, Hickory, and Pine were particularly popular, most of us would think this odd since we don’t do it in our culture. But 19th and 20th century English speakers in both North America and Great Britain commonly named their children after flowers such as Rose, Violet, Daisy, Lily, Iris, and Hyacinth. And along with old school names like Hazel and Hannah and Emma, little girls are once again receiving such flowery monikers.
So below is an article on the unique names that many Zimbabweans give their children. Their creativity is reminiscent of Native Americans and names such as Huata (which means Carrying Seeds in a Basket) or Kaliska (which means Coyote Chasing Deer). Both are from the Miwok Tribe — who appear to be particularly creative as compared to people who name their children Bob and Bill and Sue.
I guess I’m struck by how many names have some deeper meaning that has been lost along the way, and how often do we find things of other cultures funny and strange when we could see the same phenomenon in our own way of life — if we were interested enough to look. Check out the article and then reflect on how often you find the names of others odd.
Samuel, by the way, means “one who is heard by God.”