Sometimes, names can be misnomers, an accident of the tongue, a slip of the lip, a mispronunciation or misspelling. In the case of aboriginal people countrywide, names are anglicized or interpreted from their true meaning, names like Luke Warmwater.
At one time in my life, I came across a letter addressed to Ben Cowcell, who happened to live in Chisasibi, or so the envelope indicated. Ben, somehow managed to stymie even Canada Post, who, had after a number of weeks, decided to ask someone at the band office if there was anyone with that name under the employment of the council. Nope, no one had ever heard of dear old Ben.
So, we took a deep breathe and it was decided to open the letter, much to the chagrin of the postmaster, who stated that it was illegal, but the mail must be delivered, no matter what. The letter unfolded in a rather amateurish way and the writing was quite illegible. After reading the letter, we came to realize that the letter was addressed to the Band Council! So the mystery of who Ben Cowcell actually was, was solved.
Many people who were alive in the days of the Indian agent and when Indian Affairs flourished under the regime of the Indian Act, (but reserves did not), often had their names arbitrarily appointed by either the Indian Agent or the priest (or reverend), creating a whole slew of new names in a new language.
For Inuit people, who already were cast as eaters of raw meat, or Eskimos, were often just appointed a number, either starting with E or W, depending on whether they lived in the East or West. The government had Big Brother even then, many, many years before 1984. I often wondered who was given the number 1. The same for native people, who now are identified by band number.
At some point in time, when the actual naming and numbering took place, some people had the choice as to what name they could take. Some people didn’t have that choice as they lined up for their name and number and often when a group of people showed up, they were given the same last name, just to speed up the process! So some neighbors ended up with the same name, even though they were not blood related.
I recently got a hold of a copy of my birth certificate and I soon realized that the name that I thought I had, was not my real name. Again, the arbitrary misnomer was in play, and this took hold to many of my relatives, if not all of them.
I can just imagine the colorful names we had as a people, which were reduced to misspelling or misinterpretation, and the true meaning of the name lost in the red tape of the government’s due process of assimilation.
I understand that many people had just one name, which changed as they grew older. I guess my name would have changed to “one who is follicle challenged” or “the nearsighted one.” What ever the case may be, my name just seems to suit me, for some reason. Even children like to say my name out loud, in public places no less.
Well, all I can say is that a name is like a suit of clothes. After many years, you grow into it and when you don’t like it, you can change it in a court of law. I don’t think that I would ever have to change my name, nor would I ever wear it out.
It’s not like Elvis, though, he is King. Whenever I can, I emphasize that I am Sidney from 9-5 and from 5-9 I’m Sonny.