Saturday, September 17, 2005

Goliath's name lives forever

Long ago, according to the popular story, a small boy who smelled of sheep stood against a giant whose name struck fear and wonderment into the hearts of his enemies as he bellowed obscenities across the field. Goliath: ancient Philistinic tongues so named this monster. Names, of course, hold meaning, which is sometimes impenetrably opaque and obscure. In English we have the obvious names denoting occupations: Knight, Taylor, Miller, Tanner, Chandler, Franklin, Butler, Smith, Butler, and perhaps the less common Pimp; and also names denoting a place of residence: Greenhill, River, Hill, Newton, Oldham, Wood, etc. But English names are bland compared to the wonderful variety of Russian names, which could create a sense of wonder just by their sound (not only their reputation, as was Goliath's case). Collectively, Russian names could set a dinner table, fill a large menagerie of strange creatures, or even populate a two-bit sideshow. Have you ever come across an Englishman or American with the name of Andrew Bloody-tail, Xena City-of-Black-Darkness, or Sveta of-the-Cabbages, or Tanya Little-Crust-of-Bread? Have you ever, while walking through the woods, come across a dark house straight from Poe's imagination, inhabited by Granny Three-Eyes? These names are commonplace, perhaps not so much as the Wolves, Foxes, Forests, Hills, etc., but they are not the exception to the rule. Peoples' family names in many cases come from nicknames given to them by the other people in their village; almost every person in the village has a "clitchka." Eventually, maybe even people's nicknames will become their family names, and many names have a story behind them. My favorite that I've come across so far is John Jumping-Over-the-Fence. I wonder where such a name came from. Was his great grandfather the town filanderer? Was he caught stealing someone's cabbages? That story perhaps is lost, but his name will live forever in this rich and imaginative tradition.


Post a Comment

<< Home