I love my name. I think it’s beautiful.
I love the way it sounds rolling off the tongue with that initial breath of a Hebraic “H” like a gentle whisper, followed by the ending of the strong, cutting vowel “A.” Even the vocal inflexions suit me. I love that it’s spelled uniquely from the other thousands of individuals with my name. And I love its action: “She is gracious.”
However, only until recently did I truly appreciate my name and begin adopt it as my … well, as my motto. It is who I am, after all.
And it’s made a big difference.
Care to nerd out with me for a few minutes? Ok, great.
What’s in a name?
Apparently, a lot.
So, the study of names actually has a name: onomastics. According to Behind the Name, this field touches on linguistics, history, anthropology, psychology, sociology, philology and more. Clearly, there’s a lot of information behind names.
But, I want to talk about a name’s etymology – the literal denotation of the word.
The meaning behind names has ancient cultural significance. According to a 1997 article by Kristine Elliott, last updated in 2014 in the Society for Creative Anachronism, the origin of name-giving selection is largely unknown.
“Most names appear to have had some sort of original meaning, usually descriptive, rather than being simply pleasing collection of sounds,” Elliott writes.
Many names were developed from nouns or pronouns – case in point, “Conan” means “hound, wolf” and Fial means “modest, honorable, generous” in Gaelic.
“A more elaborate descriptive naming practice is exemplified in the Bible when Rachel names her son Benoni or ‘son of my sorrow,’” Elliott writes of a story from the Biblical book, Genesis. “And his father, Jacob, re-names him Benjamin, ‘son of the right hand.’”
Some names were also compounds – for example, Sigibert is Frankish for “victory-shining.” Others would create compound words including names of their gods – like the Norse name Thorbjorn.
With the rise of Christianity, many parents were encouraged to name their children after Biblical figures, saints and martyrs – Jewish and GrecoRoman names.
Names like Hanna.
Although, while mine is most often associated with the Biblical figure, Hannah, its spelling comes from Gaelic origins.
***WARNING - nerd level is about to rise to an all-time high***
On Ancestry.com, the name Hanna is listed in more than 1 million historical documents; 314,904 birth, marriage and death certificates; 200,458 census and voter lists; 42,071 military records; 36,727 immigration records; and 410,425 member family trees.
There are 84-250 people with the name Hanna in the state that I live in with the majority of other U.S. states having only 1-83 per state.
Generally, according to 1880 Federal Census Data, the top three occupations for historical Hannas were 39 percent farmers, 9 percent laborers and 7 percent home keepers.
In the Civil War, according to war service records, 946 Hannas served in the military – can someone say “bad ass” – with the majority being Union, 578.
Hanna primarily originates in Ireland, then England, Germany, Great Britain, Syrian Arab Republic and Scotland – according to immigration New York Passengers Lists. This makes sense, because my family is Irish.
As far as etymology goes...
According to Ancestry, the spelling “Hanna” is a shortened form of the Gaelic name O hAnnaigh – meaning, descendant of Annach. St. Anne is a popular figure in medieval art and legend. Scottish, it’s a variation of Hannay. German, it’s a pet form of Hans. It’s also an English medieval female personal name stemming from the lore that Hanna was the name of the Biblical Virgin Mother Mary’s mother and means “God has favored me.”
And that’s where it all goes back to that Hebrew origin from the story in which Hannah, who was barren, becomes pregnant – “favored by God” with a child.
***If you’ve been skimming through, this is a good place to jump back in because it’s getting less nerdy HERE***
P.S. You can find all this detailed info about your name by visiting Ancestry.com. I highly recommend.
Fast forward some several thousand years to Dec. 13, 2017.
I work in a deadline-based environment where even the greatest amount of “planning ahead” can easily turn on a dime. As someone who despises procrastination, I plan weeks in advance for projects – probably earlier than necessary – to avoid last-minute problems. It’s preventive maintenance.
That afternoon, I was feeling great about the amount of work that had been done for that day’s deadline – compiled neatly and ready to go. And then I got some terrible news that shook my day: One of my staff members had written down the wrong deadline and hadn’t even begun working on the assigned project.
My blood boiled.
Now, “telling people off” is simply not in my nature. No matter how badly I think of or feel about someone – momentarily or long-lasting – I rarely have exploded on a person. When I am angry, I tend to go quiet. Dangerously quiet. Terrifyingly quiet.
So, I went quiet and then the kettle began to whistle as steam poured from my ears.
But, see there’s this thing. My name means gracious. And it’s something I’ve adopted, remember? Standing in front of the desk of this staff member with the heat rising in my face and several four-letter words jumping around in mixed variations through my brain, I remembered that I AM GRACIOUS, SO HELP ME GOD.
So, I assessed how things went wrong, explained the place it now put our team in and then asked the employee in question to immediately prepare a plan to fix it. And he did.
This is just one way I’ve applied my namesake to my life – how it’s become something I’ve claimed as not just the historical denotation of my name, but who I am as a person.
And gracious? Here’s what Merriam-Webster says it means:
- Archaic, pleasing, acceptable
- Marked by kindness and courtesy
- Marked by tact and delicacy
- Characterized by charm, good taste, generosity of spirit
- Merciful, compassionate
Again, I love my name. And the really funny thing is that, before I truly researched the meaning behind “Hanna,” these traits were already things I strived for.
I grew up in a home where my dad was very sick for many years. There was no room to be “extra.” My natural behavior assumes a gracious disposition, but it was also a choice I made.
Now, as a wife and student medical practitioner, these traits take on an even more vital meaning to my life – I strive to show compassion and graciousness to the people I encounter in all situations, from my spouse to my family to my future patients.
So my charge to you?
Who are you?
I’m not necessarily talking about the literal denotation of your name. Mine just randomly happens to align with the baseline behavior I strive for. This whole thing? It’s simply a lesson and a charge on making daily decisions to be who YOU are.
What do you want to be known for? What's that baseline behavior from which you build the remainder of your words, actions and thought processes?
It’s easy to lose sight of who we are in the middle of a million expectations pressing from spouses, family, work and beyond. But, I’d encourage you to re-identify, or maybe discover for the first time what YOU mean.
I’m Hanna the gracious.
And, from that point, I strive for my words and actions to reflect that core element of my personhood.
What about you?
What are those definable traits that are the motto by which you create a baseline for your actions?