I seldom use the suggestions for Postaday blogging but one recent topic has struck my fancy: explaining my name.
Katharine is a popular name, if you count all its variants, such as Ekaterina, Caitlin, Kate, Kitty, and even Karen. Chosen by Russia for its famous queen, by Shakespeare for his famous shrew, and by the parents of the famous actresses, Carlyle, Hepburn, Z-Jones, and Ross, it is now also the top hit on every search engine because of England’s recent joy.
Katharine is also a family name, for me, handed down from my mother’s side. According to her, the family, being Lutheran, chose the name of Martin Luther’s wife for one of their daughters. Eventually it came to me to bear the honor of sharing with this great woman who never really achieved fame, nor wanted it.
We go farther back than that, however, back to the foundations of language, itself.
Specifically, the First Century Greek language contains words like katharismos, meaning “purifying”, and katharos, meaning “pure”. With Greek being the dominant language of much of the western world for some time, it yielded the name, Katharine, a good choice for parents to name a daughter if they aspired to purity for her, and a popular choice if they were educated people.
In the early fifties, I discovered my name means “purity”. I wish I could say this discovery dominated my every act from then on. However, the thought of it did lend me a certain awareness of possessing a backbone, of wondering about purity. Although this awareness resided quietly in the back of my mind for many years, it would occasionally surface, especially when I learned a meaning of any other name. In fact, learning name meanings became a hobby I enjoyed from about age eight.
No kidding, at a young age, I read baby name books from cover to cover, comparing the names of my acquaintances to my perceptions of their personalities, and, later, comparing the names of various beaus and the implications of the meanings, to my future.
Even today, when a person introduces himself to me, I mentally scour the pages of names I memorized for clues to his personality. Fitting or not, it colors my first impression. Still, I also realize we cannot help the name our parents chose and not every “John” grows up to be “Baptist”, although I believe each one is “given of God”, which is what the name means.
This beginning made me a person who feels sorry for people whose names have no meaning. Chosen from thin air because they feel good in the mouth, like pablum does, these names often are misspelled by any definition of phonetics. Often they also imply absence of a daddy in the “family”, and sometimes the absence of even a granddad or great-granddad. It saddens me, for the bearers’ sakes, this having no definition or history, no foundation or instruction for the core of their beings.
Like candy, their names give only short-term gratification and leave behind no sustenance.
I would be unfair, though, if I did not tell you one more thing about those Greek kathar- rooted words: They also gave us our word “cathartic”, which word I will leave you to look up, and to chuckle about, to yourself.