Sunday, July 25, 2010

Origins of a name

My mother was stationed in Germany when she gave birth to me (or, depending on who you ask, watched in eagerness while I hatching). Afterwards, neither my mom nor my dad had any idea what they wanted to name me. The anesthesiologist came to their rescue and bestowed upon me the name "Tamar".

It has been a mixed blessing since then.

Tamar is not a common name here in the states. And worse, if you say your name is Tamar, people think that they misheard you and ask if you meant Mark/Lamar/Jamar. Often times my name has been misspelled (Tamra, Tamara, Tamair, etc). In fact, every year that I entered the middle school Reflections competition in Georgia, someone made a point to misspell my name even if I put in the notes section of my application that it was spelled T-A-M-A-R. It had gotten to the point that I actually became frustrated with the name and tried to go by another. At first, I thought to go by my middle name, but that was even more damning that my first name-- while it is a common name for both men and women, my middle name is spelled the feminine way as well: "Erin". When I went to college, I did a dirty combination of the first letters in my first and last name and slapped an "O" at the end. So for much of my academic life at SCAD, I was known as "Taco", which was very easy for people to remember, even if it was a euphemism for female genitalia. Of course, being a black guy, that inadvertently led to some people referring to me as "Choco-Taco". So no matter how I spun it, I could never win with the naming situation.

It has also acted as a context for some rather funny stories. My personal favorite being my former roommate talking about me to her coworker and conveniently never mentioning that I was a guy. So when she said "Tamar's girlfriend is going to move in with us", her coworker shot up and said "You live with a lesbian?!"

As for where the name came from... I grew up mainly on the east coast where the origins of the name "Tamar" aren't known pass the Biblical text; in Genesis 38, a man named Judah marries a woman named Tamar. Judah dies and Tamar is left without child and resorts to sleeping with her father-in-law in order to get pregnant and avoid being sent back to her father's estate.

What a legacy I have! Up until now, this was the only thing I new of the origins of the name.

That quickly changed when I moved to California. There are a lot of middle eastern and Jewish people in the LA area who, when they hear my name, are quick to point out it's origin. It has been the opening conversation of many of my doctors appointments.

I have been told that "Tamar" is a kind of date fruit found in the middle east and that the name is actually quite common, especially in Armenia. And yesterday I was told that there was a princess named Tamar who used to light a candle as a signal for her forbidden lover to meet her (that is, until, her father discovered this, lit a candle in a boat to lure her lover into the water and rowed the boat around in a circle until said lover drowned. Hence why the Armenian expression "Oh, Tamar!" is kind of a jab at women who break your heart).

So apparently, Tamar is either a very desperate Biblical figure, a unfortunate princess now associated with breaking young men's hearts or a kind of fruit.

Oh well. I guess I'll take what I've got.

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