This week's words are:
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.