Thursday, April 4, 2013

By Any Other Name

When Liz first explained the Balinese naming system in the last chapter of her book Eat, Pray, Love, I was shocked.  How can you name your children “First”, “Second”, “Third”, and “Fourth”?  These names leave no room for originality or distinction.  They seem oddly cold and distant.  Applying these names to my own family and friends, I discovered that everyone I am close to would either be Wayan or Made, which would make things awfully confusing.  How on earth do the Balinese do it?  But as I read further, and met characters like Mario and Tutti, I realized that the people of Bali don’t necessarily go by their given names.  Instead they choose nicknames or allow nicknames to be chosen for them, just as we do.  The names we are given are as important as we make them.  At the end of the day, as long as we know who we truly are, that’s all that matters.   

My parents started calling me Alex when I was a baby.  I can’t even remember the last time either of them called me Alexandra.  I have always been Alex, the name Alexandra sounds foreign when I say it.  My grandma, however, refuses to call any of her grandchildren by a nickname.  So to her, I have always been Alexandra.  When I came to college, my roommate started calling me Lex as a joke, because she knew how much I hated it.  Eventually it stuck, leading all of my close friends in college to call me Lex.  While I was in France, I was a frequent visitor to the Starbucks across the street from my apartment.  When they asked my name for the order, I always told them “Marie”, because “Alex” was too hard for them to understand and “Alexandra” is about seven letters too long for a coffee cup.  My friend calls her sister Sarah, “B”, my old neighbor’s name was Andrew but he went by Gabriel, and a girl I went to high school with was named Pompuan, but everyone called her Kelly.  It seems, that the names we are given can have almost no affect on what we are called.  As I thought more and more about this idea, I came to realize that Balinese names are not what I originally thought they were.  They connote birth order, but that’s about it.  They allow each individual to recognize their place within their family, but also express themselves individually if they choose.  Mario, for example, chooses his name based on his love of all things Italian.  This nickname sets him apart from the other Nyomans of the world.  Balinese names are no different than American ones.  All of us are given a moniker, which we then alter slightly or completely transform.  No matter what we start with, all of us are likely to end up with something different.   

This idea of beginning with one name but ending with another mimics Liz’s journey across the world.  While in Italy, she still experiences bouts of depression and anxiety from her divorce and more recent break-up from David.  When in India, however, Liz is able to find peace within herself.  Her time in Bali allows for a lot of healing, leading to great happiness.  At the beginning of her trip, Liz’s name could have been “Sadness” or “Loneliness”, but by the end she could be named “Happy” or “Fulfillment”.  Though she is Liz the whole time, she finds a new (and better) name for herself in each place she visits.  Finding comfort within our names (and not just our given ones) allows us to be whole.  No matter what we are called, as long as we know who we are, we can be happy.    

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