What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Pentecost 8

Mythologies or folklore? Stories or fables? There are many names given to the tales told in times past. Some bear great meaning while others were mere conveniences. Two days ago we discussed the Irish mythological character Bran. There is also an English myth about a man named Bran who had a large cauldron which gave eternal life to those who partook of it. The English Bran became known as Urien. Before that name change, though, the English bran reportedly invade Ireland in a story akin to those told about the English legendary figure King Arthur.

The word myth comes from the Greek “mythos” which meant word, talk, or story. The tribes of North America had many such terms. The Chinook called these stories ik!anam; the Kwatkiutl, nayam; another tribe, spektakl and still another, adaox. Alaskan tribes told adaork tales. Every culture has had a word for what we call mythologies. For most cultures, there were oral traditions passed from one generation to the next. Luckily for us, some were actually transcribed and we have records of these written beliefs. Cultures vanish as mankind dies but the stories told remain.

Some historians point out that following generations simply repeat and elaborate on past tales. However, too many similar legends arose in contrasting parts of the world to believe they are merely coincidences. We have no real proof of the earliest beginnings of myths but it is logical to assume that all of mankind felt the need to create such myths about creation and life. There are indeed many similarities among known myths, so many that some believe they all originated from a common point.

The names of gods and goddesses appear in many forms. Even the simplest of names, “A” can be two different gods. The god Marduk actually has over fifty names; Ra, 75, Allah, 99 or 400 depending on your definition of a name, Odin over 200 and the goddess Shiva over 1000 names. In some cases it is a matter of the type of transcription used. Chinese for example can either be Pinyin or Wade-Giles when translating into English. Even the names we know can be leading. Lancelot is a central character in the English Arthurian tales and yet his name is French.

The purpose of this blog is to start a conversation, to get us thinking outside of our daily, humdrum boxes and to think expansively and as humanitarians. The first step in being humanitarian is to recognize our commonalities. Myths are a great example of this. The similarities, the very reasons we have them, and the likeness within the stories remind us that no matter our location, eye shape, skin color, or socio-economic circumstances, we are all the same creature at our basic core.

The last two posts were rather long so today’s post will be much briefer. The questions posed are not any easier, though. How do you see your neighbor? Do you recognize what you have in common or do you only see what is different? There is an ancient children’s rhyme that references the concept of a name and words. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt them.” Words may not break bones but they can break a person’s soul.

The power of Odin was not diminished when the Romans renamed him as Mercury. The English respelled it as Wodan and the German Wuotan but the basic god remained the same. We may not think a person’s feeling change when we call them a less attractive name but it can. We are not gods and goddesses. Our power often comes from our interactions with others. How did you treat those around you today?

The mythologies existed as histories and patterns of living. They also served as directions for behavior. It is hard to change our behavior and even harder to not go along with the crowd. We are worth the effect, though and so are our neighbors, those people with whom we share our planet and world. As henry Cloud noted: “We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.” We are simple people; we are neither gods nor goddesses. We are an influence to those we encounter, just be our being. People may see our faces and hear what we say but it is how we treat them and make them that can make us a legend in their lives and our own.


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