‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
No, this is not a post about Shakespeare (although that does sound fun), but rather about names. Or, more specifically, what makes a great name?
It’s not a question I’ve thought a lot about in the past few years — when you’re done having babies, endless conversations about names kind of becomes a thing of the past. But on Sunday afternoon just gone, I found myself in beautiful Streaky Bay, watching the ocean waves from the front porch of a friend’s shack, a theology textbook resting on my lap, (#asyoudo), thinking about names. It was the theology text that inspired this particular thought pattern — when you’re reading about people such as Erasmus of Rotterdam or Anselm of Canterbury, a certain amount of distraction is inevitable.
I began thinking about how names were so different back in the middle ages. For starters, last names were not really a thing, which I’m sure would have made life so much easier. None of this trying to work out if the first name you wanted to call your child complemented your last name — no. You were free to use the name Iraneus as you wished and if you were really lucky, they might even get a saint put in front of it. Or some equally important political title.
Having said that, I can’t, of course, say what factors the parents of medieval children considered when naming their offspring (apart from perhaps a great relative), but in my opinion, there is one major test a name would have to pass in that time. I’m going to call it the Emperor test.
Because I can.
So the Emperor test goes like this. Imagine you’re standing in the entry way to a great hall. At the other end, there’s an emperor or king or queen or some equally important person. You’ve been invited to the grand event they are hosting and are dressed appropriately and armed with whatever it is you were required to bring. (Bottle of wine or maybe actually armed, depending on the circumstances.) The guy in the back with the powdered wig who’s trying to act all important and ignore the fact that he’s kind of weedy looking, is bellowing out the name of all the guests, and you’re up next. Is your name good enough?
Of course in a perfect world, the name means nothing — Juliet had that right. But if you’re about to walk into the Emperor’s party and you’re following Cypriene of Carthage, Iraneus of Lyons or perhaps Albert the Great, you’re going to want a really good name.
It occurs to me, that if I was to find myself in that particular situation, Jess Newman isn’t really all that remarkable. Jessica Newman is only marginally better.
I began thinking that the key to a great title is in the ‘of’ part. Saying you’re ‘of’ somewhere is so much classier than saying you’re from somewhere. And best of all, from the readings I’ve done, the ‘of’ is a little bit subjective. Some people were of the place they were born, and others the places they visited. Based on this, I could be Jess of Darwin, Jess of Port Lincoln, or my favourite, Jess of Palmerston North. (The North classes it up. Not the Palmerston part. Nothing classy about that. Palmo people will get it. 😉 )
Of course, ‘of’ is not the only possibility in a great name — using ‘the,’ you can add your profession, a notable characteristic, or perhaps whatever you like. Take for instance a theologian named George. His parents had great political hopes for him and George is as good a name as any for that. Unfortunately for them, George had a profound spiritual experience and changed his name to Simeon in deference to his mentor Symeon the Pious. Simeon who used to be George, was then coined Simeon the New Theologian. The new part was so he wasn’t confused with John the Theologian or Gregory the Theologian. It was clearly a popular choice at the time.
If your occupation isn’t the thing you want to be defined by, you could always choose something else. I’m assuming Symeon the Pious was so named for his attitude to life, and Albert the Great was probably actually really great. I’m very intrigued by Maximus the Confessor. No idea what he was confessing, but it’s a great strong name. Can’t you just imagine hearing that in a class roll call? That kid is going places!
For myself I’ve been considering:
Jess the blogger. Boring, but true. (Jess of EssentiallyJess might be better.)
Jess the Wonderful. Because I would love to hear weedy powdered wig guy call that out.
Or Jess the Perpetually Wordy. Honest and reflective of who I am.
And far more likely to stick than Saint Jess.
I suppose, though, that if we all had important sounding names like that, then maybe they wouldn’t sound all that important after all. And the poor guy calling out the names would be hoarse, and the emperor would be drunk because he would spend all day sitting on his throne listening to official titles because it just takes that long. Maybe it’s better to just get a tag on IG instead with @EssentiallyJess, or an invitation with Jess Newman and no herald.
But still… it’s fun to pretend.
Would your name pass The Emperor Test?
What would you call yourself if you could call yourself anything?
Any expecting parents now considering the name ‘Maximus the Confessor?’ 😉