A Rose by Any Other Name
A few weeks ago, I found myself making an offer to friends over a Facebook group chat: I’ll give you a Hebrew name if you give me Chinese and Arabic ones. Within minutes, it was a free-for-all of asking for pronunciations and name meanings. And when there were no Hebrew letter equivalents for names like “Zhong Hui Yuan,” we just improvised and went with a “z” name. Coming from an Ashkenazic Jewish background, it seemed intuitive to me to name after the deceased. Asking for names of dead relatives seemed commonplace to me after being able to point to very old pictures and recall the namesake of each person in the photograph. My Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese friends found this method of naming less instinctive (“just gimme a random one pls.”)
My Hebrew name is not something I’m called very often. I’ve only gone by Aviva at Sunday school and during religious ceremonies like my bat mitzvah. If we’re talking about very reformed American-Jewish families like mine, Hebrew names are important in family tradition, but aren’t really used day-to-day. The meaning of the name, though it can be symbolic, isn’t necessarily the biggest priority in naming. It’s more about family and heritage.
That’s unlike the Chinese nicknames my friends had exchanged with me. Parents take the last of their child’s three-character name and repeat it to create a “milk name.” Or, they choose a quality that they would like their child to exhibit (I have a friend whose nickname is “Guai Guai, meaning good or obedient) and follow the same pattern of repeating it. So when my Chinese friends wanted to nickname me, they asked the meaning of my Hebrew name, which I honestly had to Google because I didn’t know off the top of my head. Because “Aviva” translates to “springtime,” they decided to go with Yue Yue, which means “moon.”
Our names reflect who we are in our present environment. At home, I’m Celia. With friends, I’m Ceels. At synagogue, I’m Aviva. But I’ll also respond to Yue Yue, even if I have no idea how to pronounce it.
Celia is a rising sophomore at New Trier High School. She is passionate about human rights, gender equality, and service learning. She is also an ambassador to UNICEF and volunTEENnation, and has served on DoSomething.org's Youth Advisory Council. Celia contributes to the Huffington Post and volunTEEN nation's blog. She loves to read, debate, and spend time with family and friends.
You can find her on Twitter: @celiabuckman