What’s in a Name? (and no, I’m not a princess)

As I said in a previous post, my love for words developed from one word — my name.

Origins

Before I was born, my parents chose my name from the Hebrew language and rich cultural history. Ariel (m.) means lion of God and my parents believed in the beauty and purpose of this name. Because Ariel is a traditionally male name (think former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon), they chose the feminine spelling with the additional -le ending. By adding the French ending, the final name was created: Arielle. Then they selected how it was to be pronounced — Air-ee-yell (like Danielle). So: I was given a male name of Hebrew origin and meaning, with the French feminine spelling (but not the pronunciation which would be like Arr-ee-yell), and an English pronunciation. This is the perfect example of how a name can evolve by incorporating influences from other languages and cultural traditions.

Princess

On top of all this, I was born in the year 1990 three months after the Disney animated film, “The Little Mermaid” was released. The heroine of the story and one of the most famous Disney princesses was, Ariel, the youngest daughter of King Triton, ruler of the sea. Ariel is a mermaid. So cool, right? Well the ’90s kids sure agreed. The little mermaid’s name is pronounced Air-ee-yule which has led to a lifetime of telling people when we meet, “My name is Arielle, not Ariel.” “No, I was not named after the Little Mermaid.” “It’s pronounced… it’s like the difference between Danielle and Daniel.” “It’s traditionally a male name.” “I am not a princess.”

And the all-original question from those people who think they caught you when they ask, “Do you swim like a fish?”

Growing up

Even with the hullabaloo surrounding my name, I have always loved and embraced my name. I love how there is a story behind how it was chosen, I love the meaning of my name’s origin, and I love how it is mine.

When I was 7 or 8, a boy in choir purposefully teased me by mispronouncing my name…repeatedly. Being a spunky little girl, I actually punched him in his stomach — during a rehearsal — in front of all the kids in the choir and the director. For years, whenever his mother would see me all she could do was reminisce on my startlingly bad behavior. It became our one connection point. I also learned a lesson I will never forget about violence: responding in violence to another person’s goading says more about me than them.

As I have gotten older, I have learned to enjoy the little kids as they giggle shyly, smile broadly, eyes lit with joy when their parents tell them my name. “You’re a princess?!” “You have a princess name?” They’re pretty cute. I also don’t take it too seriously when people forget how to pronounce it or continue in the misguided notion they are saying Arielle correctly. I have learned to tell when it matters.

Meaning

Have you ever associated a personality type with a certain name? From a past experience or contact with someone which could be anywhere in between good or bad. We assign labels: Smart or strong. Too feminine or not masculine enough. “I will never name my child that! Little Susy picked on me in the third grade and I have forgotten.” I wonder if my friend from choir might not tell a similar story about me to his potential spouse saying, “Arielle! I knew an Arielle and she punched me in the stomach when we were kids.”

On the opposite end are the names and meanings of people who inspire us, are loving, become namesakes. It’s where the tradition of family names come from, carrying one name from generation to generation as a form of honor for the original name holder and those who have followed. It’s why our best friends’ names tend to be ones we like. It’s why parents will name their child after a historical or contemporary figure.

Words have power and names matter. People become who they are all at once and slowly over time. It’s a paradox but names are a part of this process of becoming. Often, who you are is represented to the world by how you live. We are introduced to one another with our name saying a bit of who we are and the deeper we know each other a name becomes more — the very personal embodiment of how we identify one another. Names can help us recognize the humanity in the people we come across, if we let them.

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