Tag Archives: name origin

Ojinnaka-Folk Title/Name

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Nigerian American
Age: 55
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/24/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Igbo

Context: This name was given to my dad by my grandfather or his father. This name is a title given to sons who have surpassed the expectations of their father. 

  • The name Ojinnaka means that he is greater than his age-mates because of his father. Meaning that the greatness of his father is passed down to his son.
    • Thoughts: This was something that I never knew about so learning about the significance of my dad’s given name was really eye-opening. Like I stated before with my mom, names in my culture are very significant because they are given on the basis of a wide variety of things. Names can be given based on traits and characteristics displayed during the time spent in your mother’s womb, you could be named based on the day you were born, the environment you were born in, or as a thank you to God for bringing you into the world. Every name has a meaning and is something that is very important when it’s given. My dad’s name was given to him by his father because he made my grandfather proud and wanted to mark this by bestowing the name Ojinnaka to him. I enjoyed learning about this because it really opened my eyes and made me value my name even more. Names are really cool because they carry so much weight in a variety of contexts and cultures. I believe all names have meaning and value, and learning about this reassured that belief.

Malewal of the Thieves

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian
Age: 55
Occupation: Financial Manager
Residence: San Ramon, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/26/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hindi

Main Body:

Informant: So the village we come from? It’s called Malewal. Our ancestors, seven generations up from my dad, so nine generations up from you, there was Chandu, he was the first of two people who came and settled in our village. He shared our last name, he was our ancestor. So those two started the village and this is a story about Chandu.

So at some point in the past there was more than one Malewal in that area, so people would ask, “Which Malewal are you from?” And the Malewal we came from was known as “Malewal of the Thieves.” The story we heard, and I heard this multiple times is, well, Chandu was a farmer. Living hand to mouth most of the time. But Chandu, he also … at times … well he liked being a thief. 

And again, I don’t know the full story. But there was one time where – there was a town called Anandpur Sahib where Sikhism as a martial religion, the last guru, that’s where it started. Straight line, from Malewal, it’s around ten kilometers. There were a lot of Sodhis there, Sodhi is a last name, that was the family. It was a Sikh name. Apparently they were the descendants of some of the ten gurus. They were more affluent. And Chandu, for whatever reason, had enmity with them. So one night Chandu’s father-in-law is visiting, and it’s night and they go to sleep and their beds are right next to each other. So at night, he walks all the way to Anandpur Sahib. He steals a horse, he was a horse-thief. He comes back to our village but goes even further and drops it off at a friend’s house at another village.

The Sodhis come to Malewal in the morning, following footprints or whatever. They suspect it was Chandu. They accuse him but his father-in-law vouches for him saying that Chandu was next to him when he fell asleep and when he woke up, Chandu was still next to him. So the Sodhis had no proof. So that’s the story. And that’s why we’re from Malewal of the Thieves. Chandu was definitely a real person but I have no idea how real this story is. 

Background:

The informant is my father who was born and raised in northern India in the state of Punjab and immigrated to America over 20 years ago. He was raised for a time in a rural village setting which is where much of our family comes from. The village he came from, Malewal, is the center of this story. The story was well known not just within his village but within the surrounding villages as well. It was how people identified where it was he was from. 

Context:

I am back home due to shelter-in-place. One night when my family was sitting in the study I asked my father if he had any folklore samples I could add to the archive. This was one of the ones he shared with me.

Analysis:

I had never heard this story before and it was entertaining to hear somewhat of an origin story for my family. I could find no record of this story or of Malewal being referred to as “Malewal of the Thieves” anywhere online. However this story is very credible. We know Chandu to have existed and stealing a horse is a very doable action. While the story itself does not have much to analyze I think it’s interesting in how it shows how a village gets its name. How one story leads to a label surviving nine generations. Even now, when the other Malewal apparently has ceased to exist, my father says that locals still know Malewal as “Malewal of the Thieves.” While the validity of the story itself is unsure, its impact on how the village has been named and perceived is all too real.

Mount Diablo

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: student
Residence: Walnut Creek, California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 21, 2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Text: JC: The there’s a mountain near where I live called Mount Diablo, and there’s a story surrounding the mountain regarding how it got its name. Back in 1805, Spanish conquistadores were pursuing the Volvon tribe, or anybody who was resisting missionization. So the tribe entered a thicket, and they the spaniards cornered them. And the Spanish word for thicket is “monte.”

AT: Wait, what’s a thicket?

JC: A thicket is, I don’t know, trees and bushes and stuff, right?

AT: Ah, okay.

JC: And so the Spanish thought that they cornered the Volvon there, and that they were gonna capture them, but the tribe escaped in the middle of the night. So the story is that the spaniards named the it “monte del diablo,” or “thicket of the devil”, because of the native people escaping them. But then, the word “monte” got mistranslated by Americans into “mount diablo,” instead of thicket, because they did not know what “monte” meant. And so the name still lasts today. Even after that, people continued to make up stories about how the mountain got its name, because if you look at a picture of it, people are like, “Oh its peaks are devil horns,” or, “That’s where native people did Satanic rituals.” But none of that is true. And in the 1900s there were all of these newspaper articles speculating how the mountain got its name, but it’s really just because of that original event.

AT: Well is it possible that even that could have been made up?

JC: Totally, because the thing is, there is no primary documentation of it, so most of the information has been orally transferred. The reason I know about it is cause it’s right by my house.

Context: JC is a 19 year old history major at the University of Southern California. A resident of Walnut Creek, California near San Francisco and an adamant history buff, JC is well versed in a lot of local legend surrounding his famous and historically colorful place of origin. The exchange above took place over coffee when I asked JC if he knew and slang from the Bay Area. He gave me legends instead.

Interpretation: I think that this legend is significant due to the fact that it not only engages with the situations regarding the name of a place, but also the translation of a words across three different languages. Firstly, the fuzzy origin of the name of the actual place shows how easily different influences such as topographical features (devil horns), convincing oral tradition (the thicket story), and possibly even predisposed racists views (satanic rituals) can have on the understanding and belief of a place and its history. Additionally, this is a local legend tied to this one specific mountain. So, I find it even more interesting that part of the legend holds this mountain and the confusion around it solely responsible for the supposed mistranslation of monte into mountain instead of thicket. In this way, the “name origin” nature of the folklore surrounding the mountain provided a nexus for other “language folklore” of a similar topic.

Also, I like how at the beginning of this exchange, JC presented his version of the legend as the sole story associated with Mount Diablo that held any validity, only later admitting that other stories surrounding the site existed. Even so, he quickly dismissed them as rubbish. Only when I asked for proof that he had as to why his version was the most valid did he admit that there was no way to actually know for sure due to the lack of evidence. This folkloric exchange therefore provided an example of the way that people treat the folklore that they receive, and though the medium exists in multiplicity and variation, this demonstrated how people tend to hold the version that they heard first as the absolute truth.

For another version of this legend, please see p. 457-470 of Bev Ortiz’s “Mount Diablo as Myth and Reality: An Indian History Convoluted.” American Indian Quarterly Vol. 13 (1989)

The Origin of Adjorlolo

--Informant Info--
Nationality: African-American (Ivory Coast/Scottish/Welsh)
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Shoreline, WA
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/25/17
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context: When I told my roommate about how I was collecting folklore, he offered to talk about some of the stories he’d heard over the course of his life.

BackgroundMy roommate comes from a mixed-race family, one side of which originates from the Ivory Coast of Africa.

Dialogue: It is said, that my great-great-grandfather, who lived inn Ghana, who was the first man to be called Adjorlolo, um, had sixteen wives, and… I’ve heard between eighty-four and ninety-six kids.

Analysis: This one is pretty straightforward in terms of being a simple piece of folklore about a family’s origins. I found it interesting that the number of offspring from the first Adjorlolo was debated amongst the family. Also interesting was the fact that this was only the great-great-grandfather, which leads only so far back in time. A really good example of how a family’s history can be lost to time quicker than expected, to the degree that legends of eighty-something children and sixteen wives can spring up and become rooted in the family’s history by the time its fifth generation comes around.

How the McIsaac Clan Came to Be

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Scottish-American
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Milton, MA
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/25/17
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate comes from “a long lineage of Scottish kings and clan leaders of a certain group of isles.”

Dialogue: Donald McIsaac… was the, progenitor, the originator… the first dude, named McIsaac, um… and, he— So the backstory, basically, I learned this from my dad, he would tell this to my sister and me, his dad would tell it to him, I don’t know how far back it goes, maybe it stopped at Grandpa, but he always told us that this is, like, a story passed down through their family. Um, and, basically, uh, in Scotland, there was a war between two clans, the McDonalds and the Campbells. There was no McIsaac clan. Uh, these two clans were at war, and one day, uh, a group of Campbells’ bandits, um… They weren’t fixing for a nice helping of warm soup, they were, they were, bandits from Scotland, um… not cartoon characters from soup commercials… Um, they caught this guy named Isaac McDonald, and, Isaac McDonald was like, “N0nononono, guys, you don’t wanna kill me, or steal any of my stuff, I’m not a McDonald. I am not Donald-” Wait, uh- “I am not Isaac McDonald, I am Donald McIsaac, huh?” And they were like, “OH, kay! Sorry to bother you, run along!”

And that was how the McIsaac clan came to be, he ran along and started a family, etcetera, and, and… They just escaped persecution by just saying their name was McIsaac and not McDonald.

Analysis: I almost put this in the Humor category because of how much this plays out like a Monty Python sketch. It’s almost crazy to think that a solution so simple would work, but based on the story told, the feud between the two clans was more because of their names than because of anything the actual people with those names had done before. Cool to compare this with the other name origin legend I collected for this project, too, and how the differences in the legends surrounding the names illustrate what was important to the cultures those families belonged to: one focused on the progeny of the family, and the other focused on the conflicts between different families.

Story

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Caucasian-American
Age: 41
Occupation: Therapist
Residence: Berkeley, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 28, 2008
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Original script/version:

“I am named Robbin after the birds that were singing when I was born.”

“I heard this first from my mother when I was very little, probably about 5 or six. Although we were living in Texas at the time, I was born in Colorado. I was born after a very cold, severe winter. My mother told me that she had named me Robbin because of the first birds that came out during the first break in the weather. And that’s why I’m named Robbin!”

Robbin told me she did not remember where exactly she heard this story first, although she thinks it was during a family gathering. She didn’t believe there was a lot behind the story other than she was born in the spring about the time the birds were becoming active again.

The robin could represent several things. Birds are often considered free and light-hearted animals. My grandmother could have associated this image of a bird with how she wanted her daughter to grow up. Robins also have a beautiful song, many mothers wish their daughters to be good singers when they get older.

In some places, it is very acceptable to look outside and name a child Willow or Sunshine, while in other places names must come from ancient traditions or past heroes. American names tend to be grandfathered down, names like Samuel, Joseph, Christopher; These are all names that came from forefathers. The fact that my grandmother chose to pick a more nature oriented name may say something about where she was living or what she felt.

Story – China

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese, American, Brazilian
Age: 47
Occupation: ESL Teacher
Residence: Ossining, New York
Date of Performance/Collection: March 20, 2008
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Mandarin, Cantonese, Portuguese

How My Grandfather’s Middle Name Came to Be (the Hong Mountain)

“My grandfather’s middle name is Hong. It is a prestigious name, it seems, after the Hong Mountain in the village of WuXi. The story goes that a close blood relative of a Chinese emperor was buried there; his tombstone standing alone on this mountain overlooking the village. This lonely man was the direct heir to the emperor’s throne. He, however, didn’t want to rule the Chinese empire. He wanted to be free of imperial duties so he could be a free man. He left the imperial palace and wandered off as far as he could. He ended up in the village of WuXi and entered a temple. There he became ill and was taken care of by the village people.

The emperor dispatched search parties all over the empire looking for his last relative. One of these search parties led by one of the emperor’s close ambassadors arrived at WuXi, after hearing news about a strange sick man, whose identity no one knew of, showing up at this village. Upon the search party’s arrival, the ambassador went straight to see this unidentified man. He immediately recognized the heir to the empire and sent out for the imperial doctors. Unfortunately, the illness was in such an advanced stage that no Chinese medicine or medical expertise could have helped. The heir to the throne died in this village. Before his death, he made his last wish. He wished to be buried in this village and not to be brought back to the imperial palace.

The village people wanted to honor this guest. They gave him a respectful and proper burial. They chose the highest site on the Hong Mountain where no one has ever been buried before and made a tombstone fit for a member of the imperial family.

That’s where my grandfather got his middle name.” –Lee Lee Wong

Analysis:

This legend is an example of ethnic folklore as manifested in a middle name. Every name stands for something different, whether it be a personal quality or in this case, the history of an emperor’s descendent. In the traditional Chinese culture, one’s middle name carries just as much value as the first name. A typical Chinese name reads in the order of last, middle, and first name.  Choosing a name in the Chinese culture relies heavily on the name’s underlying history and connotations. Perhaps my great grandfather’s parents gave him that name to honor the story of the emperor’s descendent. The story’s themes create the name’s significance, which include individualism and self-discovery. These were probably traits my great grandfather’s parents wanted to instill in him.

It is common for the Chinese to tell stories about the origins of a surname or middle name. Culturally, the Chinese honor their ancestors and look to the past for answers to the present. Unlike American culture, which is forward-facing in the social and cultural context, Chinese culture is reliant on past events and stories. A great deal of attention is paid to the surname, which can say a lot about a person’s character and background.

My mom learned about this story from her father. She unfortunately cannot write in Chinese as well as she can speak the language, which is why I could not document this story in its original language, Cantonese. She told me that her grandfather’s name is something he and our family should be proud of and has essentially become a part of our heritage. The name ties our family to royalty and reflects hopes for grand accomplishments in life. The name’s imperial traits include wisdom, culture, richness, and a long legacy of family ties. While my mother didn’t know him very well, she said he loved to read and learn which instill the name with even more meaning. My grandfather takes great pleasure in sharing stories of this kind because he believes the name’s significance will continue to run in our family and bring us good fortune.