My Discovery of Names and Words
The basics, right? The alphabet and 0 – 9. These simple concepts, or tools, depending on how you think about them, form the basics of all our written records and most of our legal and business actions. They are also how we remember. Do you want leave a jumble, or do you want to provide an organized bit of that which was your life behind. Do we live our lives in neat and orderly progressions? Well maybe some of us do.
But if I want to be honest, I have always been messy with intermittent orderliness. I confess to having extreme admiration for Carolus Linnaeus from a very early age. He tried to impose order on the world with binomial nomenclature of living creatures for which he created the genus and species (binomial) labeling system (nomenclature) to show relationships within nature and to glorify God. To classify and illustrate the elaborate tree of living relationships was to praise creation. Useful, yes, scientific, no.
There are patterns in life. They may or may not point to anything real. For instance, if this article on names and naming seems a bit familiar, well, I wrote another article on names and naming in 2015 for the A to Z blogging challenge. Does this pattern of repetition point to anything of note? Probably not, I think we have to have three points to have a pattern, unless you are talking about a line. And real life is just too complex to worry about a single little line. That article is quite different than this one. So the line between these two articles (visualized as two points) is probably only a segment in a much more complex geometric pattern.
Naming is arbitrary. We associate meaning with sounds, but there is no intrinsic relationship between the sound and what it means. I remember the moment I began to discover this symbolic world. I was three or four and had found a pen, and in an out-of-sight nook, wrote on my hand. I traced letters I had seen, without knowing what they were. My brother, the one who went to Vietnam, came home from school when he was in junior high school and found me with the ink, from the previously mentioned “kid scribbling on stuff” event, on my hand. He was amazed. I had written A – P – E. Ape. He told me, “About alphabetic letters , vowels, and consonants, and how they represented sounds, and when you put them all together, they made words that had meaning, that you could convey without your voice.” Something in his head grew some new connections that day in school when in class they were talking about some concept related to script versus spoken language, ’cause he didn’t usually kneel down and talk to me eye to eye, and act like a teacher, or a sibling. He was a big kid and way too busy with stuff to bother with a little dweeb like me.
Some people, I won’t say whom, think that these early memories in individuals are probably memories of the telling of a shared family story. Could that collective shared family story, be actually just a memory of someone telling the story, and not really experiencing it–or is it a foreshadowing of something much later in life. That is spurious conjecture. But that is exactly what America thinks because of the pseudo-science woo -woo shows that claim Aliens raped our ancestors, or took them into labs and spliced them up. That “it is just a memory of a retelling” might be true about 1% of the time.
I was gobsmacked. Some people say these very early, clearly remembered, visual memories, appear in folks who have very high visual recall, also called eidetic imagery or eidetic memory. Anyway, high degrees of visualization seems to point to an early clarity of depth in remembering detail at several levels. Sequential memory may not do this. We as a species were thinking the same thoughts, as we do now, before we were able describe these thoughts with verbal or physical signing or speaking to share info with each other.
My little brain exploded.
Linguistics and Culture
Fifteen plus years later I was in a linguistic class in college and discovered (actually, was taught) the concept of markedness. A marked word is derived from an unmarked term. The word man is unmarked, original, underived. The word female is marked, copied, derived. Language itself was biased and sexist. I was aghast that names, themselves, carry what is essentially bias in them. My brain had become accustomed to incongruent and/or new information contradicting prior understanding. My brain didn’t explode, but the newly etched neural connections tickled a bit.
My last name, my surname, Hill, was assigned to me at birth to show I was part of the family of Hill, a man. (Sounding very much like, [caveman: “Ugh, me woman.” ] According to societal structure I was to show any transfer to a new family, the family of my husband, upon marriage by taking a different name. I didn’t want to become identified with a new name well into my adult life. I did not change my name when I married. I was not property, and I could not be transferred from one man to another. I’ve been married for 33 years so the marriage was not hurt by keeping my father’s name. We thought about joining or hyphenating our names but all the options we came up with sounded like cemeteries.
Names are not as unique as we seem to think. 8 billion people in the world. There is going to be some overlap. Actually a lot of overlap, families tend to reuse names. I applaud those groups who make up unique names for children. Identity is important. It is just that most names do not really help much with establishing identity.
We have become a collection of various numbers that identify us to various parts of our respective government and to corporations with whom we interact. We are swamped with accounts and the numbers associated with them. I think that is one of the reasons genealogical research has become big business.
Collections of names and data denoting family through generations can be unique, and they are personal. In an age where we have lost so much of our individuality and where community is more of a geospatial artifact than a connector of people, genealogy can affirm our unique placement in history. But conversely, the digitally published family tree may be a bunch of malarky. Print too.
I’ve seen people pull up the information from someone in my well established tree, someone who is buried with lots of other family members, in a cemetery where dozens of my relative are buried, and pick up their information and plop it down into the tree of a family that lived on the other side of the country because a name was similar and the birth year was the same as when their ancestor was born. There is so much family history “research” that is careless or misinformed. Seeing information flicker on a screen does not show validity.
I am actually going to anonymize my files on Ancestry, and re-evaluate each connection, especially the ones from three or more generations ago. Only legal, or church, documents can establish which Tom, Dick, or Harry married which Maria Theresa. Copies of records need to be included with the files of the person or relationship being documented. Without that, the ancestry is just a story. Stories are good; they just aren’t the stuff of real ancestry.
Unfortunately, the one thing I have to carefully re-research is what I originally thought was trustworthy research done by my mother’s cousin before the days of personal computers and the internet. This cousin traveled to archives, took pictures of old family homes, but the book that resulted showed spurious connections. He took living people’s words as fact and many people from my generation who were young at the time of his writing, publication, and sales of his book have their names, spouses and locations listed inaccurately. His work shows one significant link missing. that the Palmer family that came to Noble and Whitley County are connected to the Palmer family that arrived the U.S. in 1630 from Greater Ormsby, England. Without seeing the confirming documents, or even copies of the confirming documents, I cannot use this work of a semi-distant cousin of mine as valid documentation.
I cannot say that name switcheroos were done to show “near Pilgrim” status; I do not want to besmirch anyone’s good name, but goals can misdirect the use of data. I know the author, who I met on several occasions was quite proud of connecting himself and our family a to distinguished and somewhat historically significant Puritan family. I personally am not all that thrilled to think that a judge in the Salem Witch Trials was a relation of mine, but my liking or not liking the story of that individual has nothing to do with the validation of church records that purportedly show that Christopher was our Christopher.
Maybe it is fine for a particular bit of ancestry to just be a story. Stories are what entertain us, stories are what connect us. Those are not bad things. But research requires logic and skepticism. To look at the whole and see if bits of context actually fit together is a reconstruction that must include multiple confirming points of overlap.
We must think critically, behave ethically, and not rudely squish people’s identities. Names and numbers prove nothing by themselves. Patterns, context, and verifiable records with confirming facts should be the stuff of history.