Names

My full name is Gordon Robert Horne. There isn’t much cruel children can do with Gordon other than chant it. Although, as we didn’t have a George in our group, I was the designated recipient of “Georgie Porgie pudding and pie. Kissed the girls and made them cry.” Which wouldn’t have been too bad if I had actually gotten to kiss the girls. Horne, however, is a rich seam. I got all the same nicknames my dad had as a kid: Horny Toad,  Horndog, The Green Hornet, and others. Kids aren’t very creative, but the Green Hornet has had a remarkable run from 1936 to the present day.

My family name has been a reliable source of fun with secretaries and receptionists over the years.

“Name?”

“Horne, with an ‘E’.”

You have to waggle one eyebrow when you say, “with an ‘E’.” I can waggle my eyebrow over the phone.

In my family, each child was bestowed with one given name from each side of the family. If I was a girl, I would have been Alexis Euphemia. I remember being happy to be  a boy when I heard this. As a boy, I share my first given name with my mother’s elder brother, my Uncle Gordon. Confusion being feared despite our living 3,000 miles apart, I was often called Gordie, or Wee Gordie, or Connie’s Gordon by family. I have an aunt and a cousin who still call me Wee Gordie. There was a period when my uncle and I apparently sounded alike on the phone. One time when I was lying in the emergency room, I asked the nurse if I could use a cell phone from my stretcher and then borrowed my coworker’s cell phone to call mother and let her know there had been an accident. She answered the phone and I announced myself with “This is your son, Gordon.” My coworker gave me a strange look and told me when I hung up that I had a weird family. I explained that my Uncle Gordon had the same name and if I didn’t identify which Gordon I was, I was in peril of long stories about people I didn’t know in the least.

My paternal cousin was an elementary school teacher. She had been subjected to all the obvious name calling that comes with being a Horne (with an ‘E’) in her own childhood and was quite pleased when she realized her imminent marriage meant she could change the easy target of her last name. In my opinion, going from Horne to Onions wouldn’t provide much defense against the kids. When she was pregnant with her first child she was determined to bestow a name that could not be twisted into a crude or hurtful nickname.  Many names were examined and rejected. Richard, for example, was right out. Eventually a name was devised that passed muster, that simply did not contain any seed of a nickname within it. The child’s initials would be JLO. My cousin’s best friend visited her in the hospital as she was still sweaty from the delivery and was introduced to the red, wrinkly baby and told his name. She immediately said, “We can call him Jello!”

In English we tend to forget that all names have meanings. Our names come from so many different sources, and have been used only as names for so long, that they become simple sounds. Japanese names are different. Japanese is written at least in part with an ideographic script, kanji. When someone writes out their name, you can see what the meaning is from the characters used. Some people have only phonetic characters in their legal given names, but this is rare. People whose names sound identical to each other have different names if they write them differently. I knew four Masamis who all had different names: Masami, Masami, Masami, and Masami. The average Japanese is more aware of the meaning of their name than the average Canadian.

At Kokusai Gaigo Semmon Gakko, where I taught, the students were required to take an English name for use in class. I never really understood the point of this—the English speaking world is not comprised solely of Daves, Fred, and Julies—but it was the rule. Four boys in one class refused. I sympathized, but I wasn’t going to make trouble with the powers that be (eventually I did, of course) and told them if they wouldn’t pick names, I would have to assign them names. They stood firm and I dubbed them John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They didn’t like this. Ringo, at least, had a point. In Japanese it means ‘apple’. As an exercise, I looked up the meanings of the students’ Japanese names and their chosen English names. Fully a third of my students had chosen English names with the same meaning as their Japanese names. Spooky. They didn’t know enough English to have done it deliberately, and I didn’t know enough Japanese to have fudged the results. I suspect that when you get down to meaning there are fewer common names than we believe. Lots of variations on ‘strong’ and ‘beautiful’.

With a name like Gordon Robert Horne, with all its Rs and double consonants and terminal consonants, my Japanese acquaintances had no chance. The closest they could get was “Hey, you.” (In my later life, I am amazed how many of my nieces and nephews, little cousins, and friends’ children are named Hey You. Very convenient.) Like my students choosing English names, I had to select kanji to transcribe my name. For my family name I chose HO (bay) and ON (sound) for ‘the sound of coastal waters’. I’ve almost always lived in a seaport, so it seemed appropriate. For my given name I chose GO (loud noise) and DAN (male) for ‘man of infamous noise’. I swear by my honour that when I chose those characters I did not know James Bond had used the same initial character for his alias in You Only Live Twice—Todoroki-taro (Rolling Thunder Boy).

Of course, I had names given to me in Japan as well. Japanese school children read Soseki the same way Canadian school children read Shakespeare—with sour-faced teachers beating them about the head, turning what should be a joyful experience into drudgery. One of Soseki’s most popular novels is Botchan, about a young man from Tokyo who travels to the less civilized (by Tokyo mores) countryside of Shikoku to teach in a middle school. He has many confusing and frustrating encounters with the locals in the form of his students and his fellow teachers. It’s a good read. Pick it up. The title of the novel is an archaic term meaning ‘someone else’s son’. The Japanese have, or had, separate words for such distinctions as ‘my older brother’, ‘your older brother’, ‘an older brother who is neither mine nor yours’. The secretaries at Nova ICI found it very amusing that I was a fan of Botchan. I think they saw much of the stumbling protagonist in me in my strange land. They dubbed me gotchan, a standard diminution of my name to its first syllable and the familiar honorific ‘chan’. By similarity to botchan it sounds as if it should mean ‘someone else’s undefined something’. I approve.

These days I go by several names: Gordon, gotchan, G, G-man. Big Guy is popular with beggars. “Hey, Big Guy, can you spare a buck?” “Sorry, Smelly Guy, not today.” I am not a Gord, nor a Gordie, although the latter is still used by the aforementioned aunt and cousin and one imaginary friend who thinks he’s funny. Sadly, no one calls me Stud Muffin, though I do still inform receptionists and secretaries that my name is “Horne with an ‘E’,” waggle, waggle.

I do happen to know the meaning of my full name. Gordon is from the Gaelic and means either ‘large fortification’ or ‘large, rocky hill’. Robert derives from Old German and means ‘bright fame’. Horne is also Germanic and means ‘big rock’. So my full name is ‘between a rock and a hard place’.

Thanks, Mom.

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About gordonrhorne

Professional dilettante past my year of grace. View all posts by gordonrhorne

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