Question of the Day: “What’s in a name?” (Part 2)

In Romeo & Juliet, Juliet hangs romantically over her balcony and looks into the darkness below. She does not realize that her love is hiding in the bushes watching and listening to her forlorn soliloquy. She pontificates over her sudden interest in a man who is an an enemy of her family. She tearful mourns a loss not yet felt and questions her family’s feud. “What’s in a name?” She cries. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This quote circles through my brain tonight as my son asked why I had in fact named him Jonah. He had just learn that his biblical namesake was not the kindest or gentlest of fellows, so the question became, “What’s in a name?”

The reason I named him Jonah was more about Nora Ephron than the bible. In the 90s the movie Sleepless in Seattle was big. Nora Ephron is one of my favorite female comedic writers of all time. She had a hand in writing famous movies like When Harry Met Sally and Silkwood, and she wrote and directed Sleepless in Seattle. It is a romantic comedy about a boy named Jonah who calls up a radio show host on Christmas Eve because he is wants to help his father find a new wife. The boy in the movie is warm and kind, generous and witty, strong and brave. His name stuck in my mind years later when I was pregnant with my second child.

I did not know immediately that I was going to name him Jonah. He was actually nameless for twenty-four hours. The maternity ward nurses pressured me for a name. His tiny wrist tag said “Baby Boy”. When I finally settled on Jonah, I only knew the name from the movie. It was only after my mom bought a children’s version of the famous bible story that I realized I had named my child after a man who wilfully disobeyed god, and Jonah’s inherent difficult disposition through much if his life has served as a constant reminder ever since.

But this cannot be true, right? A name cannot truly be the determination of a person’s overall disposition and characteristics. It is only a coincidence that appears as experience which reinforces a preconceived idea. Right?

When I read Jonah the story from the bible to explain the origins of his name, he was quizlical and alarmed.

“Who doesn’t he listen to God?” He asked.

“I know, right?” I answered.

“You can’t go acting like such a human when you’re talking to God,” he continued. “I would never do that.”

“Really?” I asked. “If God asked you to do something, you would do it right away?” He looked at me as if I had completely lost my mind.

“Mom, do you think I am completely crazy. He wouldn’t need to even send a whale. I would just do it.”

I laughed and kissed him on his cheek, not because he was so incredulous or because he could not even fathom the ridiculousness of defying God, but because I realized, despite all of my pondering, how a person’s name is not who they are or even what they are. Perhaps Shakespeare had it right all along.

But it begs the question…if we are not our names and we are not our namesakes…who are we?

Love and Light, All!

Photo by James Wheeler on