“Nomen est omen”, the name is the omen, claims the Latin adage by Anon., implying a direct – ominous? – link between one’s name and life story. It made me wonder when I came across it recently, because my own first name is the Latin word for happy and/or blessed, and there have been times when my life didn’t display either of those qualities. But on balance – yes, many thanks, I can’t really complain.
There the matter would have rested, except that by chance in the next few days I met or heard about several men called Jason, a name that became fashionable thirty or so years ago. Oh dear. Clearly, their parents were unfamiliar with the story of the original Jason, the Greek hero who started out with great promise and ended up as the Fall Guy of all times. He was the archetypal hero who obtained the magical Golden Fleece against all odds from a hostile king, with the help of Medea, the king’s daughter who had fallen in love with him. So far, so good. But Medea was a sorceress, and when after years of marriage Jason foolishly decided to marry another princess, Medea went wild: she killed the rival princess, murdered the two children she had borne Jason and departed in a chariot drawn by dragons. For breaking his promise to love Medea for ever, Jason lost the protection of the gods and died as a lonely, unhappy old man. Hardly a life story to choose. But it takes a long jump from Greek myth to today’s world, during which, I hope, the “omen” bit has lost its power.
Still, there was worse to come. I discovered that an acquaintance had named his daughter Delilah, which showed that he was as unacquainted with the Bible as the parents of all the Jasons had been with Greek myth. Yes, Delilah is a pretty, melodious name, but for Pete’s sake, it’s the name of the dangerous temptress and gold-digger who betrayed her lover Samson, the invincible strong man of all times, for money. She nagged him into telling her his secret, namely that his strength lay in his uncut hair, so she got a man to cut Samson’s locks while he lay asleep in her lap, and delivered the weakened man to his enemies, against a hefty sum. Ouch. No doubt this little girl will grow up into the exact opposite of her biblical namesake, but even so, it’s a heavy name to live down to.
Next, I discovered that the full name of Cass, the pleasant cashier at my local bank, was Cassandra, which pushed me back brusquely into Greek myth. Of course – Cassandra was a beautiful princess whom Apollo tried to seduce. She played hard to get, then agreed in exchange for the gift of prophecy, and when it was hers, she broke her promise. Apollo was unable to take back his gift but he cursed it, so that no-one believed whatever Cassandra foretold about the future.
Tut, tut. This kind of thing gives women a bad name. It’s just as well that Artemis is the name of a business, not of a woman: the original goddess was an eternal virgin and passionate man-hater, huntress and mistress of the wild lands. She destroyed any man who accidentally glimpsed her and her nymphs having a bath in a forest lake, and was pretty nasty about it, too. Totally over the top. May the owners of that firm never discover the story behind the name of their business.
To my relief I never came across any woman named Aphrodite, after the gorgeous and totally amoral goddess of erotic love and wholesale seduction. The only Aphrodite I ever knew was a former neighbour’s elderly cat, who decided to end her days in a disused fridge, causing great distress and days of plaintive shouts in search of her. At least she didn’t break any tomcat’s heart.
What all this means is that you can’t be too careful when you choose a name for your child, although sometimes you may be lucky without really trying. For instance, my neighbours named their new baby girl Sophie, and were pleased and surprised to discover that the name meant “wisdom”. Let’s hope that in this case the name will be the omen.