What’s in a name? Well quite a lot actually if you are Greek. First names get passed down through the generations. They tell people which folk you come from, who your parents and grandparents are. Remember in ‘My big fat Greek wedding’ where all the men in the family are called Nikos?
In Rhodes a firstborn girl will take the name of her maternal grandmother, a firstborn boy the name of his paternal grandfather. The naming of a child is a given, not a choice. It’s a done deal before the baby is born. To keep all the grandparents happy you must produce four grandchildren, two of each. Then they all get to hear their name screeched across the square when its time to come in for tea.
When I was pregnant with my first child I knew I was having a girl. My mum is called Jill. Its not that I don’t like the name, but the Greeks have a problem with the pronunciation of J’s. Rather than inflict a life of ‘Tsil’ upon my daughter, I decided I would choose another name. Who was I kidding?
During the early days of my pregnancy the rest of the family were olive picking. I stayed home alone with four channels of Greek TV.
A plane had gone down somewhere in a forest in northern Greece, prompting ceaseless coverage as they searched for survivors. I was riveted, my pregnancy hormones desperate for a miracle. The reporter on the ground was called Poppy. Pretty name, I thought. Consistent in either language. I tuned in to Poppy every day. The days turned into a week and the coverage got less airtime. Tragically there were no survivors, but Poppy’s hope in the face of hopelessness stayed with me. And so did her name.
I thought my dilemma was solved. Instead of ‘Tsil’ I would call my firstborn daughter Poppy! Mum wouldn’t mind, she hates her name.
‘No.’ said the husband. ‘No?’ ‘We will call her Maria, after my mother’.
So that’s how my daughter came to share her name with half the Greek female population. And my mother in law.
My second child is also a daughter. She was born on the eve of the saint’s day ‘Kalliopi’. Kalliopi gets shortened to Poppy. Guess what I called my second daughter. For entirely religious purposes of course.