What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?”

                                                Romeo and Juliet, a play by William Shakespeare

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

                                                Psalm 139: 13 – 14 (New International Version)

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Dale Carnegie, American writer and lecturer popularly known for his best-selling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People

 “Let us call him Fortunato!” Agapito told her wife Joaquina.  That was October 13, 1926, in Manila.

Six years after on the 23rd of June, a baby girl was born to Daniel and Laura. “Her name will be Agripina,” Daniel lovingly said to his wife.  The loving couple was from Cobol, a rustic barrio in San Carlos City, Pangasinan.

After three decades, on that balmy morning of April 4, 1956, Agripina finds herself in a lying inn maternity clinic in Sta Cruz, Manila about to give birth to a baby boy.  She was a modiste (dressmaker) and Fortunato was jobless that time.  The birth certificate of the baby boy bore these pieces of information about their parents.  His name was Angelito and his surname was Gabriel.

I grew up with that name wondering whether my father played a trick in naming me Angelito, which was of Spanish origin, meaning “little angel”, because his surname was Gabriel?  Was I named after Angel Gabriel, one of the most prominent angels in the Scriptures?  I really don’t know the answer.  Maybe I should go on a quest to find out the answer for myself?

I am the eldest of 7 siblings.  The names of my brothers and sisters were Belinda, Charito, Deborah, Efren, Felicia and Gabriel.  The first letter of our first names was alphabetically arranged!  Although my siblings were not born in the order of their names, I think my father’s naming us was intentional and maybe he humorously thought of naming his first born Angelito hoping that I would grow up to become like the angel Gabriel of the Scriptures. 

Growing up though I seemed unable to connect my behavior with an angel.  Maybe this was the reason why my parents gave me the nickname, Lito rather than Angel.  As a child and even in school, I have always been too playful, a euphemism for being mischievous and naughty.  I remember my Grade 1 teacher calling me, “Demonyito,” (small devil) when she would in exasperation reprimand me, “Stop being naughty and mischievous, will you!”  Not only once or twice, I should say. I really didn’t know whether my Grade 1 teacher hated me or she loved me.  Why? Because at the end of the school year, I got second honors.  I wanted then to ask my teacher, “Why not first honors?” but my better angel, the real me I think, got hold of me!

This was one achievement though that really made my parents proud of me, maybe surprised them too? I would never forget my mother’s pride in her first – born son when she pinned my second honors medal during the recognition rites in school.  The camera caught that moment and I kept a digital copy of that photo!

And in my quest for the reason why my name was Angelito, I became more interested about names.  I recall reading in one of the books by M. Scott Peck, best selling author of “The Road Less Traveled” where he talked about the power of naming.  When I came across that idea, I remember my mother’s telling me the story of her nickname, “Elay”, which is nowhere near her given name, Agripina.  She told me that she was sickly as a child and her parents fondly called her Pining.   They decided to change her nickname to “Elay” and she got better and less sickly.  Maybe there is really a power in naming.

Being an accountant by profession, I tried to reconcile the names of my grandparents and my parents with the real person I am becoming now.  It was a serendipitous search for the meaning of their names and here is what I have discovered.

Agapito, my fraternal grandfather’s name was derived from the Greek word “agape”. It means unconditional love.  Agapito is equivalent to little agape.  It was very much like Angelito which means little angel!

Joaquina is my maternal grandmother’s name.  Of Spanish origin it is the feminine form of Joaquin.  In the Hebrew language it means, “God shall establish.”  

She never declared it but she always made me feel that I am her favorite grandson.  I knew this because I always heard my aunt who lives with her would say, “Nanay, nandito na po ‘yun paborito mong Apo, si Lito!” (Mother, your favorite grandson is here!), whenever I would visit with her in their place along Misericordia (now Tomas Mapua) Street in Sta. Cruz, Manila. 

I spent four memorable years Manila where I completed my high school.  Our school was within a walking distance from my grandmother’s place.  It used to be standing along Doroteo Jose street.  That school building is now gone.   A new business establishment replaced it.

Agapito and Joaquina named their first-born son, Fortunato. His name is of old French origin meaning lucky or fortunate.  He is my father.

Edgar Allan Poe, the famous American writer and poet gave an ironic twist to that name when he created a character named Fortunato in his short story, The Cask of Amontillado.  Fortunato is anything but lucky or fortunate in the story because he met an unfortunate death when he was walled up alive in an underground crypt until he asphyxiates.  If you read this required reading assignment in high school you know the rest of the story!

Daniel, as a name is of Hebrew origin which means “God is my judge” or “God is my strength.”  In the very few times that I visited with my Lolo Daniel in the province that is how I actually saw him.  He is a farmer by profession and held an elected post as a barangay captain. He raised my mother, Agripina, to become the mother of 7 children.  Just like her father, my Lolo Daniel, she drew strength from God in raising us up and promising us that she will make sure that we will all get a decent education.  And she did!

The name Daniel is also associated with wisdom, intelligence and integrity through the biblical story of Daniel.  He was an interpreter of dreams who served four kings in Babylon.  All these kings trusted Daniel because of his faithfulness to his God and the uprightness and integrity of his character.

The real name of my maternal grandmother, Lola Inay, is Laura.  It is derived from the Latin word, “laurus”.  The name represents the embodiment of victory and strength.  She complemented my Lolo Daniel who drew his strength from God and his wife, Laura.

I will never forget when I had a chance to dance with her in one of our rare visits to the province.  She was full of mirth and laughter dancing with her grandson as if celebrating her most recent victory.  I could vividly picture myself in green T-shirt holding her hand as she did a turn and feeling like she was Cinderella dancing with her prince charming. Precious moments!

She was the strong and victorious mother of my mother, Agripina.  What’s in a name, Agripina?

Agripina as a girl’s name is related to the Greek name, Agrippina, which means “born feet first”.  Google didn’t give enough information about the name but that name, Agripina, meant more than all the information in the world to me.  Why?  Because it is the name of the woman who gave me birth.  She demonstrated and lived out the meaning of God’s love for His children in what the prophet Isaiah poetically described in the following verses:

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”   (Isaiah 49: 15)

My mother loved us so much that she was willing to do anything just to make sure that we have food on the table.  I remember how I would wait for her at the bus station every Saturday night when she would come back from her visit to Manila.  She sold on installment basis some leather goods like shoes and slippers made in Marikina.  She did this to earn some money and to augment the family income.  She had a sister in Manila who married a Chinese entrepreneur who employed a number of her brothers and cousins from the province as furniture makers.  They became my mother’s loyal customers and supporters too.

She ventured into the catering business too.  She operated a small but thriving eatery inside the town market.  We had a number of helpers who lived with us who served as her assistants in that eatery.  I remembered how every early afternoon she would come home with all the ingredients for the meals she would prepare and cook for the next day’s sales.   She would get up early morning and together with her able assistants they would open the eatery to start serving the market vendors and even some of their customers too.  I would sometime join her during those early morning trips.  I didn’t know until this time where she would get that kind of energy everyday.  But after some time she also gave up that catering business.  I didn’t know why and I need not know the reason why.  All I need to know is to understand why she was doing anything and everything that she was able to venture on to earn some money.  She made sure that her family has food on the table everyday and that all of her children would go to school and soon finish their studies.  Isn’t that what a mother’s love is about?  I recall how one preacher described a mother’s love as the closest demonstration of God’s love for us.  I would say amen to that! 

My beloved mother, I fondly call “Nanay”, moved to the other side of heaven more than a year ago at a very ripe age of 87.  I will never, never, never forget her…

Our character or true essence is tied up to our identity.  Our name is associated with   our identity, who we really are and how we got here on this planet earth.  That is why this sacred task of giving name is given to our parents.   I think the biblical story is very clear about this first important task given to us as parents.  When God created the first human named in the bible, Adam, he assigned him to name all the animals created by God.  So just like Adam we named and chose the names we gave to our children.  This was a profound task and a sacred work entrusted to us by God. 

This task, however, is preceded by another very important choice which is that of choosing who will be your partner in life.  Who among the more than 7 billion people in the world would you choose to love and to cherish and commit to love till the end of time? So on that fateful day of June 2, 1984 I chose and committed to become one with my former girlfriend.  Her name is Lynda Ana Rufino.  The meaning of her first name, Lynda, is lime tree or linden tree. It  means beautiful.   And she is really and truly beautiful!  Her second name Ana, is derived from Hannah which means, “favored grace”.  And she was so favored to meet and marry a small angel, Angelito Gabriel!

Lynda or Lyn, as her friends fondly call her, is the 7th of eleven children to Rogel Rufino, a doctor by profession, and Felicitas Mariscotes, a full-time homemaker.  Their first names have very interesting meaning.  Rogel is of Spanish origin which means “famous warrior”.  Yes my father in law, Rogel, is one famous and true warrior.  You see he was a former municipal health doctor.  My wife would tell me stories of how she assisted her father as his secretary at the puericulture center where he served. He also served as a town councilor. 

Felicitas has its Latin root word, “felix’.  It means a condition of divinely, inspired productivity, blessedness or happiness.  She bore 11 children from her husband Rogel!

Let me go back to our profound and sacred task of naming our children now that the first task of getting married is done.   The question we now ask of ourselves, as we became husband and wife was, “How do we name our children or what names should we give to our children?”  Being named, Angelito, a small angel, I told her, “I think the names Seraphim and Cherubim are good names for our children.  These are the ranks of the angels in the bible.”  I really thought that it was a good idea and that my wife would welcome my suggestion.  But she said, “I think there is a better way to name them.  Firstly, we should give them two first names and secondly, their names should rhyme with the surname, Gabriel.”  That was a much better idea, I thought, so I agreed with the plan.   Aside from the fact that she would be the one who will carry in her womb every child she would bear there is also some grain of truth to that of a woman’s instinct being sharper than the man’s.  I think discerning the appropriate names for our children is more of an instinctive act rather analogical.   I am one more like that of the latter.

When our first baby came, a girl, we called her, Angelica Felice.  The first name was derived from Angelito while the second name was from Felicitas, to honor and remember my mother in law’s first name.

Our second child was named, Lemuel JoachimLemuel was a wise king in the Scriptures and Joachim was derived from Joaquina, my fraternal grandmother’s name.

The third child, Samuel Angelo, derived his name from the prophet Samuel and Angelo from my name too.

The fourth and youngest child was named Anna Carmela.  Anna was derived from my wife’s second name, Ana, while Carmela is derived from Carmel, the name of a holy mountain in the Scriptures.  We also nickname her “Elay” similar to my mother’s nickname.

All the names of our four children had “el” in them and rhymed with their surname, Gabriel, which is a Hebrew name meaning, “God is my strength” or “God is my strong man.”  “El” is the generic word for God and used in the Scriptures as “El Shaddai”, meaning God almighty or “El Elyon”, God most high.

So what’s in a name? 

I would say a lot!  It is the name given to us by our parents, who faithfully obeyed the command given to them and to their ancestors’ ancestors from Adam to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Our name gives life and meaning to the truth and harmony to the lyrics in King David’s 139th psalm which declares God’s assuring words:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Our name has the imprint of the expression of God’s love for us, His children, in these poetic lines of the great prophet Isaiah:

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”   (Isaiah 49: 15)

People may forget us.  Our friends, our closest friends, even and our relatives too may forget us.  But what is the most important truth about our name and us is that God will remember us.  And that is what really matters.  God will never forget us.  God will remember us, by our name!

Do you remember the question God asked of Jacob when he wrestled with Him after which, God changed his name from “Jacob” to “Israel”?  God asked Jacob, “What is your name?” And Jacob answered, “Jacob!”  This was God’s response to Jacob after hearing him speak the truth of who he really is (Jacob deceived Esau and tricked his father, Isaac, claiming he is Esau and stole Esau’s birth right).

“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”   (Genesis 32:28)

“What’s in a name?” you may be asked. How will you answer it?  It may take a lifetime for you to look for the answer.  I understood more about who I am and why I am the way I am as I looked back and imagined how Agapito, Joaquina, Daniel and Laura, my grandparents, excitedly named Fortunato and Agripina, my loving parents.  I wondered how my parents gave me the name Angelito and my siblings, Belinda, Charito, Deborah, Efren, Felicia, and Gabriel.  I agreed with my wife, Lynda Ana, that our children will be called, Angelica Felice, Lemuel Joachim, Samuel Angelo and Anna Carmela. These events in our lives are profound and sacred.  It is no wonder that we reenact this special day to offer and dedicate our children to God on that day of baptism or their Christ-ening!

But hear this, there will come a time in your life that just like Jacob, our forefather, God will ask you the most important question about you , “What is your name?”

How will you answer Him?

2 thoughts on “What’s in a name?”

  1. My name is Felicia. My father told me that when I came to this world the angels blew their trumpet and joyfully sings. He named me Felicia which from Spanish word means happy or merry, because there are so happy to have a new baby in the family. I am the sixth among the kin of Tatay Fortunato and Nanay Agripina (also called as Tatay Atong and Nanay Elay). They are supposed to have only 5 children but after eight long years I came to the family and brought joy in the family.
    Felicia also derived from the word felix which means ‘lucky’. At first, I don’t believe that I am lucky because I am the weakest among my siblings. A sickly child and couldn’t walk until age five (5), during my primary education I couldn’t finish the class time because I will faint and loss my consciousness. I remember my tatay will bring me to the doctor (Doctor Salud as far as I can remember) many times. But when my parents got sick from old age, I understand why I am so lucky. I am lucky to serve my parents as what is written in the book of Exodus 20:12 (the first commandment with a promise) “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” and in Proverbs 23:22 “Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” All memories of our parents are written in my heart, they who gave me the name Felicia.

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