Monday, November 27, 2006


The naming of some things merits serious thought. Children, cheese, and microbes, to name a few. More on these later. And blogs? Well, in the absence of a single driving preoccupation in life, I chose a name that, in its literal sense, made me smile and, as a metaphor for life, somehow felt right. “Murr-ma” means “to walk along in the water searching for something with your feet”. It belongs to the Wagiman language of Australia. A casual Google search failed to locate this word in another language, but if it translates to something horribly offensive that has escaped my attention, apologies in advance. Also, the pun (“murmur”) was unintentional, but now I think about it, not too bad. Having this word at my disposal is entirely due to the marvelous book “The Meaning of Tingo” by Adam Jacot de Boinod, a gift from my father from whom I derive my bibliomania. More here.

Why a blog? I admit to having looked askance at the majority of blogs (excepting those belonging to nearest and dearest) as vain wafflings. My conversion is mostly due to the blog of a friend, colleague, and mentor who recently departed for the West Coast. I found myself wanting to comment on his postings, not because I had anything terribly useful to say on his subject, but as a way of keeping contact. The proverbial lightbulb switched on.

So back to nomenclature. The process of naming a soon-to-be child, I have discovered, is also a process of discovering or rediscovering the mind of your spouse or partner, should your spouse be privileged to take part. (Sidebar: spouse is an awful word, vaguely redolent of plumbing supplies; “I’ll have a 3/8” coupling, a 90 degree elbow, and a reducing spouse please”. Surely someone could come up with a better generic term?) Who could have guessed that my painstakingly gathered list of about 50 potential girls’ names would be neatly sorted by my spouse into “old lady names” and “stripper names”. Not that I had strayed too far to either end of the spectrum – my list contained no Ermintrude or Gypsy, no Hyacinth or Blaze. But the thought of my little Jasmine being doomed to a life of poles and tassels was enough for me to ditch the list. Equally revealing was my obstinate need for a name that did not translate to an implied life of groveling servitude to menfolk. A large percentage of typical English girls’ names (aka Biblical names) translate to “humbly serves her brothers”, “brings honor to her father”,“gathers her uncle’s toenail clippings” (OK I made that last one up). The rest (of the Emma, Emily, Isabel, Ella, Bella persuasion currently in vogue) sounded much too posh for us; I couldn’t come up with a family crest with which to embellish the stroller. I was beginning to despair, when out of the blue it came: Fiona. Literal translation not all that exciting (“pale” or “fair”), but the Scottish origins lent an air of misty, heather-y romance to it, and hopefully a heavy dose of independence and a moderate amount of rebellion to the little creature: “Damn you Uncle Hamish, I’ll sweep your toenails no more.”

Of fromage and animacules, another day…