Where My Name is At Home

For many reasons it’s a joy to spend an extended period of time in this country that I love – not least of which includes the fact that people know how to pronounce my name. Although I wasn’t born in Israel, my given name is tethered to this land: עמית. Amit is a Hebrew name which means friend or colleague.

In my youth and until the recent past, I knew of Amit as a name reserved exclusively for boys/men – or as a surname. One look at Wikipedia (the Hebrew version of) and my theory is confirmed; a male-gendered name. I know quite a few boys and men named Amit, most of them residing in Israel; a cousin, family friend I knew long ago, someone I met at a festival. And I was once friends with a woman whose surname was my first.

When I stand in line at the local Cofix, where everyone knows your name (because they call you when your order’s ready), mine blends in seamlessly with the others; Ronit, Galit, Shlomit, Orit, Karnit, Drorit, Nurit.. and those are just the ones that rhyme!

But the ease with which people recognize and pronounce my name wherever I go is such a sweet feeling; it provides a sense of acceptance and belonging … especially compared to where I grew up. Even if, on my daily walks in this neighborhood, I hear someone call my name, I turn around and see that another Amit (unusually, a woman!) was summoned; or even if the man at the kiosk tells me that there are different spellings of my name.IMG_2120

In Canada, my name has not only been mispronounced; it’s also been twisted, tweaked, torque and butchered. Made fun of. Questioned. Dismissed. I used to dream of being called Amy. Or Susan. Or Debbie. Anything that helped me blend in…

Then I went to Nepal. And there too, I felt blessed to have my not-particularly-Canadian name. अमित. I learned that Amit was a popular name, for Nepalis and Indians alike – say, renowned author Amit Chaudhuri… I also learned that, in Nepali, Hindi and Sanskrit, it meant eternal or infinite, as well as an eternal friend of everyone. I was pleased, comforted, intrigued. Until I learned that, as in Hebrew, in Sanskrit and Hindi it’s also a boy’s name. Then I was called on it…

A shopkeeper in Pokhara asked me my name, and when I told him, his eyes lit up. No, I don’t believe you, he said. I laughed and said, but it is, I promise you! But you’re not Nepali, he replied, shaking his head, disbelief still stamped across his face. Show me your passport, he countered. I pulled it out, opened it to the first page, and presented it to him. His face softened and, as he shook his face, he asked: How is that possible? How do you have a Nepali name?

I’ve often reflected on that interaction many years ago in Nepal, wondering how I could have been given a name that is, at once, Hebrew and simultaneously Sanskrit. How could my parents have ever imagined that I, of their three offspring, would one day feel drawn to travel and live in Asia (as well as Israel); feel in many ways more ‘at home’ in those countries and continents than the place I was born? I’m sure they had no clue.. but in so many ways, the writing was on the wall.

There’s a connection, an identity that is forged at birth, through one’s name. By virtue of travel or living in a country where one’s name is foreign-sounding, the ties to our name can loosen, leading us to feel, in inexplicable ways, unanchored. Over the years, I learned to accept my name, then to appreciate it, weave it into my identity – wherever I may travel and live – and co-exist harmoniously with it, wherever my home may be.

Where does your name feel most at home?

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13 Comments

  1. You have a beautiful name! When I was at school there were 6 Other Wendys and I longed for an original name but now I am happy with it and wouldn’t want to change it…. 🙂

  2. I love this post! Beautiful. I’ve never thought about where my name feels at home. Certainly not in Bali where I’m Zely, or Sevy or any of a thousand other Asian ways to mispronounce Sherry! But my body is at home here. My Balinese friends can call me whatever they wish as long as they let me stay.

  3. Fantastic blog and first 2 replies! What a GREAT (also challenging, meaningful, ) question to ask children/tweens and teens as well. Now back to the question….hmmmmm…xo
    Oj

  4. Sounds like a lovely personal way to enhance your connection with those countries. I’ve pondered your question and decided that my name doesn’t feel at home at any place in particular. It’s English in origin (and I was named for an English actress of my mother’s era) and I was never that thrilled with it growing up, but I liked that it was relatively uncommon and perhaps because of that in some small and intrinsic way it has helped shape ‘me’.

  5. I am happy with my first name, except when I think of what it means! You are luckier with your first name than I am…Mine means “lame” 😉 Just glad that nobody normally knows and I am pretty sure my parents had no idea when choosing it!

    1. Hey Claudia, Thanks for dropping by and for sharing your name-story. Really? In what language does your name mean LAME? I’m also certain that your parents were probably clueless… I also like CLOUD 😉

      1. 😉 Let’s hope that they were clueless – lame or limping – in French there is the word “claudiquer” (to limp)/claudication. But the name is of latin origin and that is the pronunciation I prefer “cloud”ia …hence my nickname! Looking forward to reading more of your blog

  6. Enjoyed the post. Never realized that a name could shape who you become. But like anything else in life, you either accept it, or blame it for all the bad that happens to you. I, of course, was never able to accept my name while growing up.Kids are cruel everywhere and, when we moved to the states, I became reclusive and soft-spoken. In college I asked everyone to call me Paul and they obliged. Now I love my name because it does set me apart! And it grounds me to my family!

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