The importance of names — getting them right — recently surfaced when, in a group email, I inadvertently introduced family members who live continents apart — one in Scotland, the other between Scotland and Australia — wrong. Realizing after the fact that I had made a Henderson into a Robertson, I followed up with a postscript apology. The person whose surname made him the-son-of-Robert rather than the son-of-Hender obligingly brushed off my “so sorry” — a true gentleman.
The error occurred on the tail end of a busy day, but no excuses. I suffered embarrassment and didn’t pass over this so lightly: It is important to get names right. As a wedding minister, I feel it is inexcusable to make such unfocused mistakes and pride myself on asking for pronunciation guidance from “my” couples, since the written word can be spoken more ways than one.
How many times have we flinched to hear people’s names transposed (as in my email) or murdered in sound value, pronounced incorrectly during important introductions or life ceremonies?
One such goof-up occurred during my late sister-in-law Grace’s celebration of life. The priest actually spoke three different versions of her surname, each hesitantly and each wrong. The errors made in referring to the dear departed lady added discomfort to an already emotionally painful time.
On a light note, we had a great chuckle over an email about the last Green Flash column (The Garden Island, July 24, “Take the plunge into the General Plan”). The email changed my married surname into the name of the sandy savanna of Namibia, South Africa — Kalahari, as in Kalahari Desert. This was due to an overriding auto spell-check on the correspondent’s computer, we learned. Back to the correct name, Kawahara, though. Years ago, my friend Kazuko, born and raised to adulthood in Japan, commented on the “good” surname my husband carried. She wrote down her explanation: the Kawa + the hara translated literally to “rich river bottom,” or a fertile valley. I kept that note.
The importance of names and their meanings was impressed upon me at an early age. My Scottish father spun a tale for my sister and self explaining how the Clan Fraser received the original Norman name from the French fraise, meaning strawberry. We were eating fresh-picked strawberries on a picnic, and I can still conjure the tart-sweet taste of those jeweled berries which underlined the story. I saved that memory.
Bittersweet and downright difficult memories also attach themselves to names. My husband was given the first name Delano — although he did not come of Huguenot stock — possibly to honor no other than good old Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This was the very president who signed the edict that during World War II slammed all Japanese American citizenry, including my husband’s family, into what are politely called “camps” but were actually prisons, if not concentration camps. In the case of Kauai’s own Kaluaiko‘olau, or Ko‘olau, for short (sometimes referred to as Ko‘olau the Leper), this child of the late 1800s who was named by his grandmother carried the name of his demise, buried in a pit, even as he began his short span of troubled life. There are many other examples throughout written and oral history. (See TGI Green Flashes, “What’s in a name?” I and II, April 27 and May 25, 2015, for more on names.)
We all remember the taunts of early years if a kid’s name lent itself to such possibilities. It seems young people almost pounce on any name and give it a twist — and some are bullying and cruel. This may be abating with more applied lessons of acceptable behavior being taught in the classroom.
On the flip side, there are so many symbolic and lovely names given to children to carry them into adulthood. Here in Hawaii, where the poetry of chant still holds great importance, there exist especially poetic combinations. Some examples: Kawailele, The-Jumping(or Running)-Water vs. Nawailele, two or more such waters (more power, possibly indicated); Keahi, The Fire (no need to explain the inherent energy there); Moanike‘ala, The-Gentle-Perfumed-Breeze; and Puaokalani, The-Flower-of-Heaven. Now known worldwide via Disney is Moana, The Ocean, with all its associative depths and changing qualities. Some free moment, delve into the “Keiki o ka Aina” (Children of the Land) column announcing births in this paper. While reading the names of newborns, you may draw your own conclusions about creativity at work.
I can’t help noticing when someone’s name points to their direction in life, or fits perfectly with their interest or profession. Here, a few symbolic or sound value surnames in my collection: Bolt (as in Lightning), the fastest man in the world; Mass, the man who began the folk Mass tradition of the San Gabriel Mission; Player, a top-notch golfer; and Kruse (John), a crew member of the original Hokulea voyage who is involved with Kauai’s voyaging canoe. Two of the double-barrel names in my collection: Hart Wood, Hawaii’s Territorial times architect; and Cary Valentine, TGI’s former “Juicy Living” columnist and author of “In Love Forever.”
There you have it, Dear Readers, my question: Do you make your name, or does your name subtly influence the making of you?
Dawn Fraser Kawahara, resident author and poet, has focused her supportive interests within the Kauai community since the early 1980s. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live in Wailua Homesteads. Their passion for travel flows into the writer’s monthly TGI column, “FarAway Places.” Kawahara’s books are available through Amazon and other outlets. For information, www.kauaiweddingsandbooks.com.