Sunday, January 17, 2010
What's In A Name?
I was telling the Other Family Human a story about a neighbor I had known when I was a child. I mentioned that the woman's name was Miss Palmer and that I was sure that she had a first name but that I never knew what it was. The OFH replied that, in her childhood too, most adults did not have first names to us because we never used them. This made me remember that, when I worked with college students, they never knew one another's last names. I once had to hold a Sunday evening service so that one of our students could say the annual memorial prayer on the anniversary of the death of his mother. We had sent an e-mail memo announcing the service to our students on Friday, but the server had a major meltdown and the message never went out. On Sunday evening, the only attendees were me, the student and two of his friends. Ten Jews must be present for a person to say this prayer. "Let's call people", said one of the student's friends. I reached for the phone lists, handed them out, and that's when the problems started. The lists are alphabetized by last name. "Aaron, the track and field guy who goes to CMC, what's his last name?" "Lisa, the bio student who goes to Pomona, what's her last name?" I astounded them by knowing the answers. "How do you know their names?" they asked. "How do you not know them?" I responded, as astounded as they. In a mere two generations, our society has gone from not knowing the first names of our elders because we never needed to use them to not knowing the last names of our peers because we don't need to use them. I am thinking that, in the future, we will probably get by with initials.