Thursday, November 8, 2007

Life isn't just a series of letters and numbers, there's meaning

Chris links to a story about twins born on opposite sides of the daylight saving time switch so the first has a later birth-time than the second.

Of course, this has the chance of happening every year somewhere. And since a lot of countries move their clocks about like we do, and twins aren't too uncommon, it probably happens most years. But the idea that this could possibly change the birth order reminded me of something I've thought about before.

To suggest that it is the numbers in the time that matters, and sets the birth order, as opposed to what the numbers represent has a parallel in names.

My name is 'John'. If I see someone spell it 'Jon' I will correct them. If someone from France tries to call me 'Jean' I'll smile, because I'm a fan of Les Miserables, but I'll correct them too. Many people are this way today in America, and probably elsewhere. We see our names as a series of letters. The series of letters is immutable.

I suspect my ancestors didn't feel that way. They frequently switched with ease between different spellings, and the Hebrew and Yiddish versions of their names. The name meant something, so it didn't matter how it was spelled, or what language it was in, it still meant the same thing. And thus when they created American names using the initials of their Hebrew or Yiddish names, (a method taken from Kaballah where the initial letters of words in the Torah are used to create new words), they felt the names were still equivalents. After my great-great-grandfather Moshe Leyb died, three of his children named their next male child after him. There were three cousins: Morris Louis, Melvin Lester, and Monroe Leslie. Another great-great-grandfather named Selig had four grandsons named Seymour (luckily one had a different surname, reducing the confusion a little.)

Some might argue this reduces the names back to a series of letters again, but it's a series of letters with meaning, as opposed to the random drawings of scrabble tiles.

(It's probably a good thing I don't have children. They could have names like X_teswq.)

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