Saturday, December 30, 2006

What's In A Name?

(I'm posting this as a response to the prompt on my other website, AnceStories2. I invite you to journal with me. It's a great way to leave a record behind for the generations to come!)

The name that was given to me at my birth was Miriam Joy Robbins. Now that I am married, it is Miriam Joy Midkiff, but professionally I go by Miriam Robbins Midkiff. My mom picked out my name from the Bible. Miriam was the sister of Moses, a prophetess, who danced when the Egyptians were destroyed in the Red Sea, and who grumbled with her brother, the high priest Aaron, against Moses' leadership. Her punishment was a temporary case of leprosy. My parents picked out Bible names for all of us children, either as first or middle names. They served as missionaries to Native Alaskan communities for many years, and so Bible names were a natural pick.

My great-grandmother, Lillian Fern (STRONG) HOEKSTRA, absolutely loved the name Mary. She gave it to herself as a nickname, and named her youngest daughter Mary. She also had a granddaughter named Mary. When I was nine months old, my parents went back to their hometowns in Western Michigan for several months, and during that time, we visited Great-grandma. She wanted my mother to change my name to Mary. Diplomatically, Mom told her grandmother that I was used to my name now, and that besides, Miriam was a variation of the name Mary, anyway.

Miriam is the Hebrew version of the Greek name Mary. The roots of both names come from the Hebrew word for "myrrh," the dried sap of a tree native to Somalia and eastern Ethiopia that is mentioned frequently in the Bible. For years, I did not like my first name, because it was a) hard to spell; b) hard to pronounce; and c) every name meaning book I read said Miriam meant "bitter." Then one day I came across an extended explanation of my name. While myrrh is indeed bitter, it is the base for healing ointments, incense, and perfumes. It was one of the three gifts the Wise Men brought to the infant Jesus. When the women went to Jesus' tomb on Easter Morning, they brought spices with them. It is likely that they had myrrh, as it was used to embalm bodies (and it covered up the smell of decay). Myrrh was worth more than its weight in gold in ancient times. The extant meaning, then, of Miriam is "bitterness turned into sweet fragrance," a definition much more acceptable to me!

"Joy," my middle name, is self-explanatory. My maiden name, Robbins, means "son of Robin." The name Robin is a nickname for Robert, which itself means "bright fame" or "red." Midkiff is still a puzzle. It is probably a U.S. southern dialect pronunciation of Metcalf(e), which means "meat calf."

My younger brother could not pronounce Miriam when he was a toddler, so he called me "Mimi" for a few years, which is actually a standard nickname for Miriam (along with "Mim"). My younger sister also called me "Mimi."

I prefer children to call me "Mrs. Midkiff," although I don't mind teenagers addressing me by my first name (I notice, however, that my teenage children's friends tend to either call me "Mrs. Midkiff," or simply avoid my name altogether when addressing me). Because I work at a middle school, the students there naturally call me "Mrs. Midkiff."

All my names (except for my middle name) are difficult to spell and pronounce. I could make long lists of the way they have been butchered in pronunciation and mis-spelled over the years! What is curious to me is that Midkiff, which is so easy to pronounce (yes, MID-kiff) is constantly pronounced "Metcalf" by strangers. It has also been mis-spelled as Midriff and Midkiss ("f" sounds like "s" over the phone, I figured out, so now when I have to give my name via telephone, I spell it out "M-I-D-K-I-double-F-as-in-Frank). Robbins is easy, too, but I constantly got "Robinson," "Roberts," and "Robertson." And Miriam is generally mis-pronounced as "MAIR-yum." The correct pronunciation is MEER-ee-um. Just two days ago, a clerk mis-read my name on my debit card and called me Mariah. Marion, Maryann, and Muriel are other mis-nomers. This explains why I named my children Melissa and Matthew. No odd names, no odd spellings!

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