Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Name Game

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
~William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Why is it, when I introduce myself as Barb, when I sign every unofficial document as Barb, that people insist on calling me Barbara? I shake someone's hand and say, "Hi, I'm Barb." And they immediately turn around and say, "So, Barbara, blahblahblah..." Or, I send an email and sign off as Barb, but I get a reply that begins, "Hi Barbara..."

It wouldn't bother me so much to be called Barbara, it is the name my mother gave me, after all, but most people can't pronounce it. It is not (*shudder*) BAHR-bruh, but BAHR-bah-rah. Three vowels, three syllables!

That aside, I like using the shortened name, Barb, because it has meaning. Given my penchant for wordplay, I like that both my first and last name can be messed with. A barb (noun) can be several things:

  • a pointed part projecting backward from a main point, such as a fishhook or arrowhead (Something about me tends to grab and/or intimidate people, so that works for me.)
  • an obviously or openly unpleasant remark (What... who me? I hear your laughter of recognition! Being the one whose acerbic remarks have often gotten her into trouble, I was laughing way before you got here.)
  • a hooked or sharp bristle (I've been told, especially in my younger, more impatient days, that my personality can be a bit prickly.)
  • in ornithology: one of the processes attached to the rachis of a feather (Sure, she looks innocent, but watch yourself.)
  • any of numerous, Cyprinid fishes of the genus Barbus and Puntius (I love to swim!)
  • obsolete: a beard (That which covers or keeps hidden. Scorpio that I am, I can be highly secretive. Although I'm fairly open with my thoughts, most often, people don't know what I'm really thinking.)
    —Synonyms: spur, spike, prong, snag, prickle
My name, was derived from Greek βαρβαρος (barbaros) meaning "foreign." According to legend Saint Barbara was a young woman killed by her father Dioscorus, who was then killed by a bolt of lightning. Her parents loved her for her beauty, intelligence and modesty (but, of course!), but her father was enraged by her conversion from polytheism to christianity (ironic that I converted from christianity to polyatheisim). Pursued by her father and guards, she hid in a gorge in the mountains (Go, Gypsy, go!). She stayed hidden here until a shepherd betrayed her. As legend has it, the shepherd was transformed into a marble statue and his herd into grasshoppers. (Just the type of punishment my own warped imagination might come up with.)

Despite being tortured, Barbara held true to her faith (imagine, a gal named Barbara being such a stubborn lass!). During the night, the dark prison was bathed in light and new miracles occurred. Every morning her wounds were healed. Torches that were to be used to burn her went out as soon as they came near her. But she did not waver from her faith. Her father had her taken to a Roman imperial magistrate during a persecution of Christians, who ordered her to be beheaded, and directed that her father carry out the sentence himself. He dragged her up to a mountain and killed her. However, after having done so, he became frightened and tried to flee but, according to the story, was struck dead by lightning in divine retribution (karma's a vicious bitch of a dog, eh, Daddy-O?).

All of this I never knew until last night, when I was doing research. (I know you thought I stored all this vast knowledge in my head, but writing takes research, kids!) I find it interesting, in that so much about my father - particularly his abusive alcoholic side - tried to kill my spirit when I was younger, and he was struck down by cancer just as I was entering adulthood.

"I'm just a poor, wayfaring stranger,
traveling through this world of woe."

The more popular meaning of the name Barbara is Stranger. It's fitting, in that I've often felt like a stranger in my own life. Also, people invariably seem surprised when they discover different facets of who I am and the things I like, like to do, and the things I'm good at. As well as some people think they know me, there are a very limited few to truly get me. I'm used to it. Hell, I'm not so sure that I always get me!

I've had several itterations and variations of Barbara used as a nickname. Timothy likes to call me Barby Bean sometimes. Tonto calls me Barb-o-bean. Given that my middle name is Ann (after my Grandma Black, whose name was Anna - the Beach Boys song came years later), it was a short hop for someone in my youth to refer to me as Barbarian, which I frenchified and converted to Barbarienne, and used as an email moniker for years. My nanny kids used to call me Baaba, and occasionally still do. Some have called me BB (Hey! What's that sharp, stinging feeling? Did I get shot in the ass with a BB?!).

So, call me Barbara if you must, just use all three syllables. But I'd rather just be...



  1. i hate it when i hear people call you BARBIE. god! you are SO NOT BARBIE!

  2. Yeah... I haven't been Barby (I always spelled it with a 'y') since about... oh... *gulp* 1970.

  3. Still love that I mis-heard when introduced to you, and thought that Ro-Ro called you "BAR" (again, the irony does not escape me).

  4. OohLa - Strange alliance, indeed... stranger still, the names we've come up with (and the books we could write!).

    Having you for a pal was worth 8 years of desultory TV watching... *wink*


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