Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What is in a Name?

When I was a Jew living in a foreign country, living with a Jewish name I ran into the following problems:

a) People mispronouncing my name. This can range from pronouncing a CH as in ‘chain’ and ‘change’ instead of making the guttural sound of Ch as in ‘Chanukah’
b) People calling me a different, easier to pronounce, name all together. I have been called every name from Anna to Sharna in my time.
c) Some people find the C before the name Hannah so confusing that they instead choose to call me by my more English last name Graham, and this is not even a pet name. They honestly thought that I was boy called Graham CHannnah!
d) My passport and birth certificate having a different name to the one on my ticket. I would never have thought this would be an issue when flying ELAL, but because my British passport holds the name Hannah and my ticket was ordered by my loving parents in the name of Channah it proved far too confusing for the security at the ELAL check in.

When I arrived in Israel I felt the sweet bliss of not having to repeat my name several times over, or to sigh when people would ditch the C and H all together and call me Anna. In Israel I was Channah. I was me. I was the name of my grandmother, the name my parents gave me, and I felt so relieved. However it was short-lived.

Channah in England is a pretty bog standard name for a Jewish girl, and Hannah is continuously one of the top three most popular names in England each year, however in Israel the name I inherited from my Grandmother is just that… a name of a Grandma. This is a problem a few of my friends who came with pretty traditional Hebrew names in England to Israel… their names were just not cool enough. Shop keepers welcoming the new Olah to Israel would make suggestions regarding a change of name, “Your name is just not cool. You should go with Chani instead… much more hip!”

Er… Chani? Chani in England is the name of the Rabbi’s daughter. For years I had refused to allow the Jews of England call me Chani… well I do make an exception for a Mr Javor and every now and then for a Ms Freeman (if she is very very good). There was no way I was changing my name to Chani! And then there was the option of Ilana, my middle name, which I can only stand if it is pronounced with a Yorkshire or Israeli accent. However, everywhere I turned I saw Ilanas or Elanas. Plus in my first few weeks in Israel I found myself living next door to an Ilana Channah, so making the same change to my name would be way to confusing.

So for the last two years I have lived with the fact that although my name may not be cool in Israel, I am too cool for Israel… well that is what I tell myself anyway. Then Thursday night there was a new revelation.

Yummyguy: So you still haven’t told me your name
ME: I thought I did… you never told me yours.
Yummyguy: You never asked… it’s @#*&%
Me: I’m Channah
Yummyguy: Channah? You don’t look like a Channah
ME: Yeah I know… Channah is a grannies name blah blah blah
Yummyguy: No… I would say Channah is more of a naïve girls name… you are certainly not naïve!
ME: Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…. Thank you?

I wasn’t sure whether to take it as a compliment or more of a reference to the indecent flirting that had been going on all night, but I was slightly shocked. Although I have never considered myself nor have been referred to as a naïve girl, I did not like to be told that I was ‘certainly not’ one! What are you trying to say dude?

After telling my new boss about this she suggested looking it up in a names book. I was a little dubious as I once looked my name up in the Hebrew dictionary and found it said that my name meant “a camp site for soldiers.” I was not pleased, but I thought I would go along with her suggestion and I found the following:

From the Hebrew name חַנָּה (Channah) which meant "favour" or "grace". Hannah was the mother of Samuel the prophet in the Old Testament. The Latin version of this name is Anna.

Channah – Goddess of Life – Hebrew

CHANNAH - Variant of the Hebrew name Chana meaning “gracious, merciful”.

The girl's name Hannah is pronounced HAN-ah. It is of Hebrew origin, and its meaning is "favored grace." Biblical: mother of the prophet Samuel. Being barren, she asked God to bless her with a child, and her prayer was answered. Hence, the name literally means "God has graced me with a son."

But seriously what is really in a name? In olden days I would have been called “Troublesome second daughter of Stephen the man among daughters.” In my mind among my friends I am the UN truck, the one that they can always rely on when they need a hand, an ear or a shoulder. I am the one that cannot stop crying 1 day in every 2 months. I am the one with selective hearing that they are secretly jealous of. I am the one who doesn’t really give a shit, but then does when it comes to her true friends. I am the one that will not let people get too close even though they may think they totally know me. Ultimately I am someone who tries to carry myself with grace and wit. Who strives for humility and love. Who sees the romance in all things and would only love the world just to kiss and make-up. So I guess I have found peace with my complicated name, because it has beautiful meaning.

Beyond the literal, ultimately I was named after my Grandma Annie. I wish I had a picture to show you of Grandma Annie, but you will have to make do with my description of her as a person instead. Although I never met my grandmother, I was born a year after she died, I have always been told what a remarkable woman she was. People describe her as the most welcoming woman with a warm heart, vivacious personality and contagious giggle. An amazing woman with a wonderful soul. I remember seeing a picture of her just before she died with my sister and wishing that I could have met the woman that everyone said I would grow up to be like, the woman that everyone referred to as a woman beautiful both inside and out. What a legacy to leave behind… What a shadow to walk behind. But with her name I do hope that I can leave something similar for my granddaughter/s to look up to. And with a little grace and hoping that HE may look favourably upon me I carry on my walk through life. Just call me the Goddess of Life from now on.

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