Saturday, April 1, 2017

What's in a name?

The Greeks and Italians share a common custom of confusion. It's in the naming of their first-born sons. When the parents of a first-born son follow tradition, that child gets his paternal grandfather's name which means when an extended family gets together for an event, it results in several cousins with the same name, and a scene such as that in the clip above from, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

In both cultures, the results are some interesting nicknames to distinguish who is who. For example, Grandpa Anthony might have a fifty-something-year-old grandson, Little Anthony, and a thirty-something-year-old GREAT-grandson, Baby Anthony. The nicknames are created to distinguish one from another but somehow once created, become as permanent as cement. In a situation where cousins and extended family have several Anthonys, the nicknames can become quite creative and are often very telling of one's personality or physical features. And sometimes that nickname just comes up because of a momentary situation that never again presents itself but leaves the recipient with that unusual label, thereby changing his identity for eternity. 

In Among the Zinnias, such a situation was highlighted on the island of Incompresso where the naming custom was slightly different. Below is an excerpt.

The tavern owner’s name was also Pietro, as was his father and grandfather for it was an island tradition hard to discourage—naming one's first son after oneself. So it might have become a bit confusing had they not all acquired nicknames that just seemed to present themselves at one time or another and then lay permanently like the stones embedded in the garden soil. For the tavern owner, it was his two spindly legs that hung down from the short pant he’d worn as a boy that earned him the name Chair.
          “Pietro come here,” someone would call out, but he and several other boys would appear.
          “No, not you,” the person would shoo the others away as a finger would wag in his direction, “Chair legs here.”
          And then it was just Chair. The timeline was not straight in anyone’s memory. The years went by, and Chair cemented itself in place. The tavern owner’s name was Chair; that’s all anyone knew . .

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