The name of a man is a numbing blow
from which he never recovers.
Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980
Canadian philosopher, educator and scholar

I often wonder at the names people bestow upon their children.  Do they realise that these little ones have to live with that name for ever.  While I do know they can of course, change their name by Deed Poll here in NZ, I don’t know about other parts of the world.  And before giving them their name, do they stop to think where the name came from.

I met a couple who were getting married in Old St Pauls.  They arrived with their infant daughter Samarra.  This name is thought to be derived from the Arabic phrase which roughly translated is “A joy for all to see” but it is also the name of a city in Iraq.

Of course I said all the right things to these doting parents.  However, on hearing this name I immediately thought of the story about Death on the road to  Samarra – do you know it?  It goes like this :

A soldier in ancient Basra in Mesopotamia, who was fearful, went to the king and said to him: “My lord, save me, help me flee from here. I was in the marketplace and I met Death all dressed in black who eyed me with a deadly look.
Lend me your royal steed so I can hasten to Samarra which is far from here. I fear for my life if I stay in the city.”
The king granted his wish. Later the king met Death in the street and said to him: “My soldier was terrified; he told me he met you and you looked at him very strangely.” “Oh no,” Death replied, “my look was only one of astonishment, because I was asking myself how this man would get to Samarra, which is so far from here, because I am waiting for him there tonight.”

Will that little girl ever hear the story of Samarra and the ghost of death. I urge you all to think carefully before naming your new baby.

Crying baby

You’re going to call me what?

18 responses to “Samarra

  1. I can’t explain it but the given name for a child turns out to be the perfect name for a person and one would not be who we perceive without that particular name.


    • My mother used to say that children grew into their names. However, some of those children who have been named after a complete football team but want to think about changing their name when they are older.


  2. A name is a powerful thing and we should seek wisdom before naming a child.


  3. Love that story Judith and your reflection on the long term effects of given names. Initials also matter. They wanted to name me SAD but changed the initials to DAD – better. 🙂


  4. Ah, naming a child is such a big task. Not only do you have to pay attention to history, you have to look at initials, rhyme it to see if kids can easily come up with something cruel. Then you make a decision on a safe name and find out years later they don’t even like it. Can’t win 🙂


  5. I accidently named my beautiful daughter after a hockey player. Thank heaven, she thinks its cool!


  6. My grandson is called Ruan – after a saint, who gave rise to a number of placenames in Cornwall. Like the original Ruan, ours has red hair ~ but legend has it that the saint was mistakenly thought to be a werewolf, who murdered his own son. Imagine what fun twin brother Mylo (Myles) will have with that story, when they are older 🙂


  7. Growing up my mother’s initials were S.E.F and mine only differed by the middle letter, S.J.F. You would have thought I’d have taken this into account when naming my children, but instead middle daughter has exactly the same initials as me, S.J.R. We thought carefully about the names, but the initials didn’t even enter our heads.


  8. Yes initials are equally important. Because of having known a girl whose initials were BAD I/we were particularly careful when naming our two.


  9. I opted for traditional names. I enjoy the thought of unique names, but I cringe when I think about the child with the unique name as an adult.
    A name is like a tattoo on the body – though less painful.


  10. Pingback: I Went For a Walk | I choose how I will spend the rest of my life

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