A woman in Sacramento, California recalls an old family legend about the origins of their last name. According to her, her great grandpa and his brother had a huge fight over their inheritance after their parents died. The farm was left to be split amongst the two of them. The conflict didn’t arise from property or money, but rather from who got to keep the mule. The dispute over the mule was so heated that my source’s great grandfather left his brother forever and changed his last name from Hedding to Hedden.
My interview with my source, A, went as follows:
ME: So you mentioned that you have an interesting legend about how your name came into–like came to be.
A: Yes, when I was a little girl, my father used to tell me the funniest story about his grandpa and his brother. Apparently when their parents passed away, they were left their property, they lived on a farm. The money and land were divided but when it came to who gets the mule, my great grandfather and his brother could not agree. At the time their last name was Hedding. Well my great grandfather eventually gave in and let his brother, my great uncle, have the mule. Now I never actually met this great uncle because my great uncle because my great grandfather was so angry that he left the place, changed his last name to Hedden, and started a new family.
ME: Did they ever talk to each other again?
A: Never again.
I really wish my source had some living relatives who I could ask more about this legend. I think the whole concept of a dispute restructuring an entire family (especially over something as simple as a mule) is incredibly interesting. My source did, however, show me some genealogical records that show that the last name did, in fact, change from Hedding to Hedden at that point in the family tree. Whether this was the reason for the change is up for debate.
If you point your finger at the moon, you would anger the moon, and the deity living on the moon will slice off your ear when you sleep.
The informant is not sure why this is so or who the deity living on the moon is. However, this superstition may be rooted in respecting the deities, and could possibly be linked to the myth of Cháng’é (嫦娥), the Chinese goddess of the moon. She lives on the moon because she had swallowed the elixir of life and became light, floating away from the earth. Her husband Hòu Yì (后羿) was a mortal archer known for shooting down nine of ten suns that were scorching the earth. Cháng’é lives on the moon with a jade rabbit.
It is interesting to note that pointing is disrespectful in cultures all around the world.
“There are some superstitions in German. Like when you hear, in German or..for German people. That when you hear an owl hoot, if you jingle the change in your pocket, you’ll have good luck for the year with your crops.”
The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. She says that she first heard this folk belief from her grandma when she was a young child. The informant says she knows many pieces of folklore from Germany but rarely believes in any of them. She says she thinks this superstition originates from centuries ago when many people believed in luck for their crops to grow. She doesn’t know why and how owls and change are related, though she speculates that many superstitions do not make sense in modern context anymore.
I agree with her analysis about superstitions and crops. Because farmers cannot determine the fate of their crops from just working hard, as weather and other factors were often uncontrollable aspects of the occupation, farmers relied a lot on luck and superstitions to help them. The lack of understanding the meaning of owls and change shows the loss of context as this saying was passed down through generations. If the saying originally had meaning for the owl and the change, it is lost today, at least in the informant’s family.