I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently across the continent. After having known him for the last 10 years, I finally mustered the courage to ask him what his name meant or where it’s from. I have never met him face to face. We have always communicated by phone or email. We have collaborated on many projects over the years.
His first reaction was to laugh at my request. He said that he has been asked many times this question. We all call him, “Fik.” He explained that his formal name is “Fikre.” He was born and raised in Ethiopia. He recounted the stories the elders had told him when he was growing up. His mother had gone through a difficult pregnancy and labor. When he was born, her first few words at the sight of him were remembered by everyone who was present. And so, she decided to call him by these very words.
He told me that he has always marveled at what people call themselves or how people name their children. His name means, “My love.” It commemorates the torrent of emotions that rushed through his mother as she held him in her arms: One of relief mixed with exhaustion, great anticipation, and the mostly falling in love with a bundle of little toes and little fingers cradled in her arms.
“Fik” is really a word and in a particular language, it may be ordinary everyday speak. We have always been accustomed to popular Christian names taken from the bible and the like. Even these names have meanings. For example, the name “Mary,” a popular Christian name, has many versions in different languages. It is derived from Latin, “Maria.” In Greek, it is “Mariam,” and in Hebrew, it is “Miriam.” Supposedly, it has been used before the 12th century but it was used in England from then on. On further inquiry, it may have Egyptian origins, derived from “Mry” meaning “beloved” or “Mr” meaning “love.” And so, it is possible that over time, these simple ordinary everyday words gained a different status. It gained a distinct category in the language, only to be used to permanently identify and address a particular individual.
What about the Japanese and Chinese names? I have a friend whose name means, “calm as the sea, strong as the mountain.” That’s what his parents decided to call him. And they even consulted a village elder to ensure that the characters reflect the correct meaning. Or how about the native Americans with their beautiful names taken from their environs or events in their lives?
Fik shared with me that he has a brother whose name is “Hiwot.” It means simply, “I have life.” There is so much history in the circumstances around his birth and the conditions in Ethiopia at that time, that the name is totally appropriate for him, he admitted to me.
One can argue that everyone eventually embodies their name. And if the name bestowed is not so fitting or too cumbersome, a person can become more known in their nickname or even their last name. I used to have a classmate at school who we all called, “Toby.” Toby was very athletic and always walked around with a basketball in one hand. She had a long name, having had to carry her ancestors on her back. You know, the typical “Mary Elizabeth Ann, etc.” names, one from each female relative in the family tree. Her last name was Tobias. To this day, I believe, she still goes by “Toby.”
With the recent onslaught of unusual names given by Hollywood celebrities to their offsprings, one wonders if they chose the names solely for its unconventionality or if there is more to it. One thing for sure, it may not be so easy out on the playground if your name is fodder for teasing and bullying.