Of Course a Rose by Any Other Name… (Part 1)

…would smell just as sweet.  It’s the same object, no matter what the name happens to be.  However the thing that dear Mr. Shakespeare neglected to say is that the meaning of the word rose – as we know it today – would cease to exist.  And if the former rose were to be called a daisy, the meaning of the word daisy would remain altered forever.  The images that the names conjure up in our mind would be completely different.  It all goes back to Saussure’s sign, signified, and signifier… if you’ve read Saussure, you’ll recognize how important those connotations are.

So what, exactly, is in a name?  A human being’s name, in particular?  For example, the name Sarah means ‘princess’ in Hebrew.  Millions of females are named Sarah and I guarantee that to the myriad of individuals who know those Sarahs, the images, emotions, and memories that they associate with that name are unique to the particular Sarah that they interact with.  In other words, no two Sarahs are alike and  the name represents different things to different people.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know very many Larks. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve heard plenty happy songs sung by the feathered larks, and they’re quite beautiful.  But not many women have Lark as their first or even their middle name.  I’ve met or heard of six such women.  S-I-X.  So we’re pretty rare.  In fact thinkbabynames.com states that it is a boy’s name.  And to tell you the truth, the Porter line has both a male and a female Lark.  Yep, one of my distant male cousins born in the late 1800s or early 1900s was named Lark.  And I think there’s British zookeeper with my name, too.  (Yes, I have Googled myself.  You’ve Googled yourself, too.  Admit it).

According to several baby name websites, Lark means light-hearted, happy, and cheerful.  Hopefully my friends associate those things with me…. and I’m sure that a few other things come to mind, as well.  Whether the majority of that list is positive or negative, well, I’ll leave that for them to decide.

So what’s the point of this post?  This week I learned that when a foreigner goes to Senegal or when shows a genuine and long-lasting interest and/or relationship with the language and culture, the Senegalese give that person a new name.  From what I understand it’s a way of welcoming that person into their culture and society and it shows that the individual is now part of the larger Senegalese family.  Since my two classmates already had their Senegalese names, my teacher was anxious for me to claim my membership in this tradition.  He presented the list of first and last names that are found in our textbook and he let me choose which one I wanted.  He translated many of the first names and I was pleasantly surprised by how many of them meant ‘mother.’  Like many African cultures, mothers hold a very important place in Senegalese society; they’re greatly respected.  I liked several of the names on that list but in the end I gravitated to the Mother of all of the mother names.

I chose Awa.

Awa means ‘Eve.’

In many ways this new name is quite symbolic.  Eve was the first woman on Earth, and I am going to Senegal for the first time.  I’m also the first one in my family to ever go to the African continent.  This summer program marks my first occasion of learning an African language – for some reason I don’t think Wolof will be the last one I’ll have to learn – and it’s the first time that I’ve learned a language that doesn’t resemble English in any form.  As one of my previous posts mentioned, my research revolves around children – specifically little boys – many of whom haven’t seen their mothers in a very long time.  And sadly, some of them may never have known their mother.  So maybe, just maybe, in a small way I can be a mother figure as I seek to help and protect children from the horrors of human trafficking.

But more importantly, Eve is a role model for all women.  She loved her husband and her children, she was righteous, intelligent, obedient and an excellent teacher.  She knew her share of heartaches, trials and disappointments, but I believe that she also experienced great joy.

Unfortunately many people in today’s society, and most people throughout history, tend to view her in a very negative light.  They think it was her ‘fault’ that the world has so many problems.  They deride, ridicule and, in some cases, despise her because ‘if it weren’t for her we’d all be living in a paradisiacal garden lounging about and eating luscious fruit all day long.’

Beverly Campbell has dedicated much of her scholarly research to unearthing and/or elucidating ancient traditions and texts that deal with the Creation story and Eve.  She wrote an excellent article on this subject.  I encourage all of you to read it.  Don’t be intimidated by its length – it’s actually an easy read, but it makes you think.  It’s one of the most compelling articles that I have ever read.  Period.

This is one of my favorite quotes from her text:

To suggest that Eve acted out of ignorance, on impulse, with shortsighted or petty motives or actually accepted Satan’s half-truth (you shall not surely die) delimits her free agency.  It is to suggest that Eve took this momentous step for mankind without knowledge and considered judgment, that she was tricked, that she succeeded in spite of her foolish self.

Her knowledge is denied, her wisdom ignored, her unselfishness rejected, her faithfulness impugned, and her courage mocked.  It is to suggest that mankind’s passage into mortality was not the result of the free and informed choice of a noble parent, but a fortunate accident.

I like this quote because it delineates many of what I consider to be Eve’s most admirable attributes: knowledge (or intelligence), good judgment, wisdom, unselfishness (or generosity), faithfulness and courage.  I hope to develop these same qualities, and I will most certainly need all of them as I embark on this journey that has been set before me.

Going back to starstruck Romeo’s famous line, many Senegalese will call me by my new name during my stay in their country.  I’ll of course still be Lark, but to them I will be Awa, or Eve.  I hope that my quest to acquire her attributes will be successful.  I recognize that it will take much longer than 10 months to do so.  But I hope that several years from now when the Senegalese people I interacted with reflect back on the experiences we shared, they will associate at least some Eve’s characteristics with the Awa that they know… me.

Part 2 (the last name) of this post will be forthcoming…


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