2: What’s In A Name?

5 12 2012

My name – Kurt – is a short form of the name Konrad.  That’s the form that’s official, the form to be seen on my birth certificate, school forms, military and government documents, and such.  The English version Conrad is more commonly seen, but the original Old German is Kuonraet.  That old version reveals how the nickname Kurt comes from Konrad.  Take another look: Kuonraet.

The name means bold counselor.  It refers to someone who is not afraid to advise others of the truth.  More on that later.

Many people in our nation name children after members of the family.  Sometimes, they name children after friends.  Occasionally, they name children after people they admire, after celebrities.  Many people in our nation choose a name simply because they like the sound of it.

As for my people – my parents – they not only listened to a name’s sound, but thought also of its sense.

My mother and the members of her family favored names found in the Bible.  That would be the English forms of those names as found in the Authorized Version of the Bible, also known as the King James Version.

The original texts of the Bible weren’t written in English, of course.  Almost all of the Old Testament was written in classical Hebrew many centuries before English evolved into existence.  There are a few portions written in Aramaic, which was a trade language spoken in common by the peoples of the Middle East for hundreds of years.  The New Testament has a few words in Aramaic, but its language is Hellenistic Greek.

My mother’s people didn’t use names in their Hebrew or Greek versions since they would often be hard to spell or pronounce.  For example, my sister received the middle name Joanna.  The original is more like Y-hohhanan.  Outside Israel and other Jewish communities, that’s a little strange.  Joanna is not as English as Jane, but in English-speaking communities, it’s better recognized.

My father and the members of his family favored German names.  Real German names, that is, with regard to how they were spelled and even how they were pronounced.

As I have said, my name is Konrad, not Conrad.  I went by the nickname of Kurt, not Curt.

My sister’s first name is Kristel, not Christine.

My father’s name was Georg, not George.  He was named after an ancestor who lived in the Fatherland, as my father’s people said it.  As my mother’s people said it, he lived in the old country.

My grandfather’s name was August.  A few of his old friends could get away with calling him Gus, but nobody in the family could.  Ever.  Within the family, it was August.  If not that, then it was Father or Grandfather.  Father – not Papa, not Pa, not Pops, and not Dad.  Grandfather – not Granpa or Grampa, and not Gramps.

Holzgerecht.  That’s the name behind my father and grandfather and their people.

King is the name that had been behind my grandmother.  King is English, but my grandmother was German.  Her maiden name would have remained Koenig if certain Americans at the time of the First World War had not pressed her people to make a change.  This because the United States was at war with Germany.

At the time, Germans composed perhaps the single largest ethnic group in the nation.  Milwaukee was one of the largest German cities in the world.  And yet, right here in the middle of America, in Wisconsin, one of the then-48 United States, too many people expressed enough fear and anger and vanity to force fellow Americans to become more American.

Smith is the name that had been behind my mother.  Smith is English, but my mother was German.  Pennsylvania Dutch is the term commonly used, but that last word is actually mispronounced.  Dutch should be Deutsch.  Many of Pennsylvania’s original European settlers were not Dutch, but German, and my mother’s original family name had been Schmidt.  It, too, over time became more American.

And yet, who hasn’t had such trouble?  As I think about it, I can’t think of one ethnic group in this great nation that has not, from some group either in the majority or minority, at some time in some form suffered discrimination, persecution, oppression, and misperception.

One cannot forget entire Aboriginal-American nations and their displacement, even in some cases virtual genocide.

One cannot forget ever so many African-Americans and their enslavement, followed by Jim Crow apartheid.

One must remember the Mexican-Americans of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

The Chinese-Americans of California.

The Irish-Americans of Boston and New York City and Buffalo and Chicago.

The Scots and Irish Americans of the Appalachians and the Ozarks.

The Polish-Americans, Norwegian-Americans, and Portuguese-Americans of so many jokes.

The list does not end.  Jews.  Hawaiians.  Italians.  Japanese.  Puerto Ricans.  Hmong.  Arabs.

The list may now include Christians of any ethnicity.

As I said, I cannot think of one ethnic group in this great nation that has not at some time in some form suffered discrimination, persecution, oppression, or misperception – except perhaps the English.  And yet perhaps also the English.  They would remind us of their problems back in the 1760s and 70s with the Crown and with Parliament.

My father continued the Holzgerecht custom.  He, too, preferred German names.  He wasn’t opposed to Bible names or to my mother’s preference for Bible names.  While she was Baptist, and he was Lutheran, they were both Christian.  Therefore, first names selected for my sister and me were German: Kristel and Konrad.  Middle names selected for my sister and me were English Bible names: Joanna and Bartholomew.

Moreover, even the German names selected had Biblical meaning.  In my case, my mother referred to a passage written by Paul the Apostle to the ancient church at Ephesus, which was located in the nation we now call Turkey.

Here it is, in the King James English my mother loved.  It sounds strange today, and it may be hard to understand.  At the time of its publication in 1611, it was supposed to be plain and simple English.  The vocabulary of the King James Bible had been limited to ten thousand words.  By contrast, the vocabulary of William Shakespeare, who may have helped with the book’s English, was thirty thousand words.  Every citizen of the British Isles was supposed to be able to read it, regardless of class.

Ye are called in one hope of your calling;

One Lord,

One faith,

One baptism,

One God and Father of all,

Who is above all,

And through all,

And in you all.

But unto every one of us is given grace

according to the measure

of the gift of Christ…

till we all come in the unity of the faith,

and of the knowledge of the Son of God,

unto a perfect man,

unto the measure of the stature

of the fullness of Christ:

that we henceforth be no more children,

tossed to and fro, and

carried about with every wind of doctrine,

by the sleight of men,

and cunning craftiness,

whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

but speaking the truth in love,

may grow up into him in all things…





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