Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Three Word Wednesday-Random Thoughts

This week's words are:


Random thoughts

1- On names: Just the other day Gabe and I were talking about names, how amazing it is that our names become such an integral part of our identity. We infuse them with such meaning and turn them into something unique, despite sharing them with thousands, maybe millions of similarly-named folks. This reflection was prompted by watching our 2 and half year old and marveling at how, from an early age, she already appropriated her name with such authority. We play with her sometimes and ask her silly stuff like "are you a banana?" or "are you a kitty cat?"; she invariably answers "nooo, I'm Isabel."

Do people feel the same bond to their middle names? I know there are people who ignore their first name altogether, and use their middle name as their anchor. When I was in middle school I has a classmate who was one of six sisters. The sisters all shared the same first name, which was their mother's name as well. Not surprisingly, they all went by their middle name. Similarly, my ex went by his middle name because he did not like his first name, which was unconventional by modern standards, and which he shared with his grandfather.

These instances are understandable. I wonder, how many people are there who feel a strong bond to both first name and middle name? Other than combo names, like John Henry or Ana Maria, where this would be expected, I suspect not many people are as bonded to their middle name as to their first name. But maybe I am biased by my own experience. I have never identified with my middle name. I only use my middle initial on rare occasions and for official documents.

2- Knock on wood: When I was a kid, I used to play "toco palo" or "al esconder" with my neighbors. Sometimes home would be an actual "palo" (tree), sometimes it would be a light pole. I never would have made a connection between the phrase "knock on wood" and my childhood game of tag. Wikipedia suggests there might be a relationship:

It is commonly thought that knocking on wood has been a superstitious action to ward off evil throughout history. Some believe it has to do with knocking on the wooden cross. Another explanation for this practice is the pagan belief that spirits (dryads) lived in trees. By knocking on the wood of a tree while making some sort of a bold statement, the speaker could prevent the spirit from hearing him and stop the spirit from interfering.

However, there is no evidence for either theory, and the superstitions have not been traced beyond children's games of tag of the early nineteenth century. According to Steve Roud, the earliest documented references to "touching wood" are from 1805 and 1828 and concern chasing games like "Tiggy-touch-wood", where you are safe from being "tagged" if you "touch wood". Says Roud, "'Tiggy-touch-wood' was an extremely well-known game, and it is most likely that the phrase passed into everyday language."

I like better the pagan belief as possible origin of the phrase. I can see my superstitious side knocking trees to keep mischievous spirits from ruining my plans.

3- Hurricanes: We are not off the hook until November, but despite a very active early hurricane season, things seemed to have calmed down. Let us hope the weather continues to be benign until the season is over. I would knock on wood right now, but I doubt that the spirit of the IKEA Kids green chair next to me is listening.


  1. I do have a middle name. A very few call me by that. I prefer my first name as it is very rare in India too. Names are important and I do hate it if anyone addresses me by my initials.

  2. I am very bonded to my middle name. I share it with my mother and sister and would love to give it to a daughter one day. It is a common middle name and yet to me it is beautiful and unique when paired with my first name.

    I also wanted to mention that I read your first blog post on this blog and found it very informative and thought provoking.

    Hope you have a great day.

  3. my middle name is ann.. when i was a kid i thought it was and... my mom still calls me jodi and.....

  4. Well, as you know, I feel more strongly about my middle name than my first name, so I modified it to become Josie. :-) I'm not sure why, I guess I just wasn't ever that crazy about my first name. If I could afford to change my name legally, I would!

  5. Speaking of which, a friend asked me, "If you changed your name, would God still know you?" Huh? Well I certainly hope so!!

  6. what a great read! a glimpse into the looking glass. very delightful!

    i hadn't made the connection - knock on wood, and being home/safe - playing tag as a kid.

    thanks for that!!


  7. Ha! I loved this post. My three year old sons do the exact same thing. I call them nicknames like nugget and mooshling and they will almost always say, "I'm not a nugget... I'm Ethan" or Elijah, which ever one is talking obviously.

    I like to make knock on wood jokes with hubby. I like to say, "oh man, better knock on wood," and lightly rap my knuckles on his head. It's a joke of course. My hubby is an effin' genius ;o)

    The weather has been so odd here in MN. Saturday it was in the 80s, Sunday it was in the 50s, Monday it started out in the 60s and cooled down to the 40s and it has been getting progressively cooler ever since. And we hardly had any rain all summer and now fall is here and it won't quit. My grass never looked so green and winter is creeping up around the corner! Just crazy!

  8. I love my first and middle name together. I am very much attached to my middle name.

  9. Thank you, friends. It's really interesting to read about your relationship with your names.

    Gautami, I agree with you on the initials. I would not like to be addressed like that either.

    RW, I loved your comment. How beautiful that your middle name is a link to your mother and sister. As for the first post, since I wrote that, a court decision on a long standing case established sort of established the concept of Puerto Rican citizenship, but it is more of a residence certificate than a true citizenship.

    Paisley: and how did that make you feel?

    Josie, I hear you. I wish you could change it officially too, if it would bring you joy.

    Charles, I had not made the connection between the game of tag and the phrase either. I love these 3WW challenges because I learn all kinds of things when preparing to write a 3WW post.

    Pen, your knock knock joke made me laugh. I tease Gabe that he has a rock noggin.

    Meleah Rebecca: I love that name combination, so I can totally understand you being so fond of it.

  10. I like the pagan reasoning as well. :)

    I have no middle name. Neither does my mom. I love my name though.

    Very fun read,


  11. I love the way you take the words and use vignettes to personalize them. My favorite sentence in this really nice post is the final one. BTW, I've used my middle name for a long, long time but sometimes feel like reverting. Wonder if it's too late?

  12. This is nice......I hate my middle name, it's my mum's Christian name and though we get on wonderfully well, it's never felt mine.

  13. I really enjoyed reading this! When I was a kid, my first name was pretty rare. Now it's pretty common. I love how your daughter answers "nooo, I'm Isabel." That is really sweet -- and she has a beautiful name.
    And I loved finding out about the "knock on wood" history -- the pagan explanation is really cool and is my favorite.

  14. I go by too many names including the initials :) - I dont mind, a few different kinds from the family, and several others from friends. Somehow I feel that my personality differs when addressed differently. But it's the same me underneath - After all Shakespere says :

    "What's in a name? That which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet."

    I tend to agree. :)

  15. Jo and Tumblewords, I love it when you come visit. I always enjoy reading your blogs.

    Shepard, thanks for visiting. I'm glad some of you like the pagan explanation for the "knock on wood" phrase, regardless of whether it is true or not.

    Clare, thanks for visiting and for your comment. I like your name.

    UL, I like the idea of different names bringing out different facets of your personality. I have not had that experience, though. And while I agree that at first what name is assigned to someone/something can be arbitrary, once you assign it to someone/something, it does become an integral part of their definition, so that if you show me a rose and say it's a banana, I would think you're nuts.

  16. I'm with Charles, I didn't know that there was a connection between knocking on wood/ tag. Really informative. I especially liked the knocking on wood to keep the spirits away.

    I just use my first and last name mostly. I even use an initial for my first name sometimes but, I do like my middle name. I am named Michelle after my dad (Michael) and Lee after my mother's middle name.

    The weather here has just been very cold lately. I don't like that. I wish it were a little warmer. I don't like the cold weather at all.

    Have a nice day.

  17. Interesting thoughts. I don't feel tied to my middle name. It is funny how we have good and bad associations with certain names.

    And though I don't consider myself superstitious at all, I do often knock on wood :) So maybe I am superstitious.

  18. I'm not a big fan of my middle name. Mostly because whenever my Mom used it while I was growing up, that meant I was in trouble. I had a boyfriend once who loved my middle name, and insisted on calling me by both names: it's probably a good thing it didn't work out between us, as that freaked me out!

    P.S. Sorry it took me so long to get to this: I just wrote mine tonight and I don't typically read other's before I post my own :)