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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What's In a Name?

"From our ancestors come our names, but from our virtues our honors." ~ Proverb

The thoughts in this post wove themselves together, finally, tonight. I had been pondering the first part for a while, then found a second portion that pulled out more of my thoughts like threads through a loom, and then it all became interwoven in the presence of a small friend who is "precisely seven and three-quarters years old."

So let me begin.


Do you like your first name, your middle name, your family name? If you were as wise as your parents, would you have chosen the names you bear now? How does your name make you feel?

If you haven't figured it out already, my given name is Julie. Julie Michelle. The last part doesn't matter as much (and that part's for another day). For most of the time I've had this blog, I was very careful about not using my name, and on several occasions asked friendly, good meaning people to edit their comments if they had inadvertently used my first name. It was very important for me to remain anonymous and be tangobaby.

Part of that desire to remain anonymous was because I was often writing about my feelings about tango and people I danced with, and I did not want to put myself or any current or potential dance partners in an awkward position. It seemed more prudent to remain mysterious, and it was also more fun to think of myself as somewhat unattainable. Must be the Scorpio in me.

Another part of it was that I like the name tangobaby. I made it up on a whim, basically to get my gmail account, and it kind of stuck (with me, at first) and then it became my nom de plume and I quite liked having one of those. I liked tangobaby better than my real name in some ways, because it described who I felt I was and also because it was a name I made up myself.

From the time I can remember being conscious of it, I've felt somewhat indifferent to the name Julie. It's a fine name (from the French, a diminutive of Julia, and means downy or soft...ahhh) but it just never felt like it belonged to me. Perhaps because growing up I knew about three or four Julies (all more popular, more successful) so maybe I thought it was their name and not so much mine. I had little phases where I wanted to be called Julia or even Juliette. Those names seemed more classic, more fancy, dramatic, had more heft or meaning to them? I don't know. I was a kid.

When I was in my twenties, I went through a phase (I kid you not) where I seriously considered changing my name to Sabine or Rhiannon. My poor family. The truth was not that I really needed to change my name, but more that I needed to change my life. I was unhappy in a marriage that I didn't realize I didn't want, and in my unperceived desperation, I thought that having a new name would perk me up.

Getting a divorce took care of that, but I still remained Julie Michelle. Much more Julie Michelle than I had been before, probably, for most of my life until then. Until tangobaby came along.


Tonight I spent some time with one of my favorite friends. You remember my little friend C., my little girlfriend from the nail salon near my home. She is, and I quote, "precisely seven and three-quarters years old." She will turn eight on Halloween.

Somehow we got on the subject of names. She asked if I knew the meaning of her name, which I did not, and then she got a piece of paper to write some things down for me to take home, as is her way. (I also got some drawings of seed embryos, the reproductive parts of flowers--also known as stamen [it's the "men" in stamen that tells you it's the boy part) and pistil (which is not a stamen so it must be the girl part]--and a daisy because she is learning about plants in school.)

On the piece of paper she wrote her "American" name and then her Vietnamese name, and I said it several times so I would have the pronunciation down correctly, which pleased her. She was very proud to tell me that her name means "beautiful woman" in Latin. She was sweetly adamant that when I went home, I should look up the meaning of my name on babynames.com, which I did. Which is how I know tonight that Julie means downy or soft.


Hussein. What does that name mean to you?

What do you think it means? The following text I found on wiki.name.com.

"Hussein is an Arabic name that means 'good-looking.' It can be traced back to the Arabic hasuna, meaning 'to be good,' or 'to be beautiful.'

According to WhitePages.com, Hussein ranks at number 7,908 on the list of most common surnames in the United States. The highest concentration of people with the surname Hussein is to be found in Minnesota, followed by New York, California and Michigan. Other surnames with a similar ranking include Ginsberg, Lansing and Trump."

I wonder if you know where I am going with this.


Back in the early part of 2008, some people in the media took great pains to emphasize Barack Hussein Obama, and I know that I don't have to explain to you why. You're smart enough to realize that just because a person might have an unusual name, it doesn't mean that they are a terrorist or wishing harm on the people of the United States.

That's because if you're reading this blog, you're a person with some reasonable sense of the world and that's probably why you and I connect.

However, there are a lot of people who don't get it, and for that reason, the constant invokation of the name Hussein with the corresponding ominous intonation or pause makes the fluff-brained weak with fear. A presidential candidate who has the same name as Saddam! Let's take that mental leap together (in tiny minds, it isn't hard: Hussein = Muslim = Terrorist!). Say it ain't so!

I thought that idiocy had died down, but with the promised return to personal attacks by the McCain campaign (hey, they admitted it, I didn't make this up myself), it's now the second time in three days that this irrational guilt-by-free association bullshit has been used to introduce Sarah Palin and her running mate. Oh, did I get that mixed up? Sorry.

Why do I bother bringing this up? Why should it matter to us, those who see that this is just another juvenile stab at the Democratic candidate, that most people with half a brain would know this is so incredibly stupid as to not be given a second thought?

Because at a Republican rally this week, people in the crowd yelled out "terrorist!" and "kill him!". Do you think people are yelling that garbage at Obama rallies? And what do Sarah Palin and John McCain do? Nothing. And in doing nothing, they silently condone such behavior.


I've been told by one reader who won't be reading my blog anymore that my "hatred shines through my political entries."


What I would say now is think of the little C.'s of our country. You might know a few yourself. Young, curious, bright-eyed, smart boys and girls of all different ethnic backgrounds who call America home. What if the name Caroline became the name du jour to shun, to say with hushed tones, the name of a killer? How many little Husseins are going to school now, worried that someone might beat him up because a schoolmate's parents said Hussein is a terrorist's name?

Because that is what happens. Kids can be cruel but grownups are obviously worse. And this is how ignorance grows and feeds itself on young minds and spreads like the fucking plague.

And so I come back to these kids. I don't want little Julies or little Carolines or little Husseins or little anyones to grow up in this country and be maligned or racially profiled by the people who would want to govern us. Attacked and singled out from people at the height of this nation's power. Because if they're doing it now, what makes you think they'd stop after November 4th?

And for the apologists who might come here and say this is all made up, that I'm blowing things out of proportion, I say to you, you're fucking wrong. And you know it. Call off your dogs.


ps. If you've never read my first post about little C, called Hope for the Future, I hope you will take a moment to do so. It's really one of my favorite posts ever.


Mtnhighmama October 8, 2008 at 11:51 PM  

Damn, I just like you more and more. Can we have coffee sometime, or ice cream or devilishly good cocktails?

ModernTanguera October 9, 2008 at 1:03 AM  

I know some people with Facebook accounts who added "Hussein" as their middle name. Awareness-raising, I guess. This is an excellent post with an excellent point.

Incidentally, I used to hate my first name for being so common. (My confirmation class in church consisted of me and a girl with the same first name and same first initial of her last name as me.) Now, I love my whole name. I have always loved my middle name, and I have been fond of my last name, but I have grown up to love the whole thing. It connects me so much to my family, to my brother (because how many times have I heard our first names spoken in the same breath?), to everyone who knows me by those names and has spoken them with love.

My Castle in Spain October 9, 2008 at 3:50 AM  

Dearest J., let me tell you that it's not "hatred" which "shines through your political posts" but your humble, legitimate desire to see a ray of light in the future of your country.
What you say about names is true. In France,the name Mohammed doesn't look on a CV. My first name is Lala, which means "beloved" in malagasy and i can still remember the headmaster telling me it isn't a catholic name !

Great post !!!!

ps: re your post below, i watched the debate on the site of French paper "Libération", dubbed in French (i understand it better). and funnily enough the "my friend" was translated only twice. However, the French press did underline the lack of deference of Mac Cain towards Obama, finding him in fact quite disdainful.

A Cuban In London October 9, 2008 at 3:57 AM  

I like the name Julie, it conveys intimacy, don't ask me why. And your blog name is a good one, too; tangobay is succinct and to the point, you think of yourself as a young person who likes tango (and to tango).

My second surname is Basque and at some point I dabbled in the idea of bestowing it on my son, to save my maternal line. Alas, it is far too complicated to pronounce and luckily I was sense and gave up on the idea.

As for Obama's name, your post echoes my sentiments.

On another note, and completely unrelated to your post. The other day I was watching the debate between the two candidates and it seemed to me that McCain's arms and forearms look robotic, every time he tried to emphasise something his limbs would become rigid. Does he suffer from any condition? I don't think it's right to laugh at someone who could be suffering from a type of pathology unknown to yours truly, but I must admit that it troubled me greatly when I was watching him.

Thanks for the post.

Greetings from London.

Mary-Laure October 9, 2008 at 4:15 AM  

I love thinking about names...
Emily (like Dickinson and Bronte) is a favorite, as well as Emmylou, Marina, Jane and Johanna.
I also adore Russian names and Arabic names, like Noor (the light), Amal or Alia.

julochka October 9, 2008 at 5:16 AM  

excellent post, as usual. :-) and because i always have to make everything about me (just ask my sister)..i'll say that i've always felt like a julie, but never liked my middle name (kay). like you, i on a whim, chose julochka, mostly because i had a russian connection and julie was always already taken and i didn't want to add a bunch of numbers to the julie just to use it. no one actually calls me that, except in writing, but it feels like me.

when we named sabin, we gave her amalie as a middle name, in case she grew up and didn't like having an unusual name. happily, she loves her name and feels it suits her and gets mad at me when i call her pookalakka rather than by her name.

there's something in a name, for sure, which is why i always thought it was so amusing that karl rove had the last name he had..it means "ass" in danish. :-)

willow October 9, 2008 at 5:46 AM  

First of all, I loved this post! And I agree with Cuban that Julie is a very friendly name! I am also enjoying my nom de plume. Over the years I have learned to like my given name, and unlike Lala, I grew up with a very Catholic name in protestant surroundings, even though my family was not Catholic. I guess they just liked the name. I don't, however, like my first and middle names together, probably because my mother would only use both when she was angry with me. My daughter chose a stage name for her career. How fun is that?

msHedgehog October 9, 2008 at 6:22 AM  

I like internet names - they're names you give yourself, so they're more meaningful than the ones you get given. I always choose some sort of animal name - hadn't thought about that before.

My real name is tricky to pronounce, especially in my dialect of English, which doesn't pronounce the terminal 'r'. I actually prefer the way my American friends pronounce my first name. It doesn't have a specific meaning, though, seperately from its associations with people. You could look it up at babynames and they'd give it a meaning, but of course it doesn't have a meaning in the sense that anyone understands anything specific by it.

I quite like the idea of names in Chinese and some other Asian languages being picture-names, words that really have meanings in common use. But I suppose there's the risk of getting something inappropriate.

smith kaich jones October 9, 2008 at 8:18 AM  

Just a note for A Cuban in London - When McCain was a POW in VietNam, his arms were broken & not allowed to heal properly. He has limited use of both arms. It IS bothersome to watch, but even more so when you understand how it happened.

And re: the hateful responses towards Obama at McCain or Palin rallies. Despicable. In the same way it was despicable to protest against GW by calling HIM a terrorist, likening him to Hitler, etc. - I have no sympathy for anyone on either side who behaves in such a way.


P October 9, 2008 at 8:32 AM  

So much goodness in this post.

I love my parents for naming me Persephone - a name with some pretty heavy connotations, but also some lovely ones. I wrote about it here: http://www.whatpossessedme.com/search?q=name

I know what you mean about the anonymity issue - I waiver between wanting to be P. (which is what so many people call me anyway) and Persephone - which is who I really feel I am. Haven't made up my mind yet.

The Hussein issue is driving me nutsy fagen. This is just SO INCREDIBLY IRRESPONSIBLE of McCain, his cronies, and assholes like Ann Coulter. They are going to have blood on their hands (God forbid) if they don't watch it.

namastenancy October 9, 2008 at 9:33 AM  

I remember reading that when the Danish Jews in WW II were ordered to wear a yellow star of David, the Danish King put one one. I think that the Republican Party has long passed the threshold of responsible political behavior. Today we are all Jews, Cambodians, Vietnamese and yes, Hassan's. My Christian grandfather was from Lebanon when it was ruled by the Ottoman Turks so I learned about racial and religious intolerance from family history. When we pander to hate and ignorance, then we are no better than those who attack our democracy which has taken so may hits in the last years. But people like you, who are so much younger than me, give me hope for the future. I'd lost it for a while, being surrounded by idiots who just wanted to party and had no thought for tomorrow. The best part of religion and the best part of democracy talk about the righteous man, the one who stands for truth, balance, reason and toleration. You, ma cherie, are a righteous woman!

Debbi October 9, 2008 at 4:01 PM  

I think we were children at the same time, there were 7 Julies in my class, but I always liked the name...
I've always liked my name too - Deborah Anne. Deborah - busy as a bee, and Anne - gracious, merciful. The first name is most certainly apt! ;-)

Nice post!

b October 9, 2008 at 4:11 PM  

I guess I'll get branded with the "bullshit" tag. My common-law mother-in-law and various sisters and brothers in law are all from Oklahoma and hence Republicans, and they are the nicest and sweetest and least reprehensible--in ways racial or otherwise--of anyone I know. It is an obvious logical fallacy to say "all these ignorant near-Nazi racial assholes are Republican, therefore ALL Republicans are as such." THAT is bullshit. Incidentally, no doubt you read that Democratic pollsters have recently determined that at least 30% of registered Democrats are "profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of a Negro being President" and believe that black males are generally lazy and violent.

My name means "Black Oatsower." Old English and German.

tangobaby October 9, 2008 at 4:53 PM  

Hi mtnhighmama,

Just say the word and it can be all three. If we end up in your neck of the woods, are you anywhere near Powell's Books?


Hi moderntanguera,

I read somewhere a while back that people were doing that. I think it's only awareness-raising amongst the converted and open to discussion types.

I really like the part about your family and your brother and that connection to love. That's really wonderful.

Hi lala,

I love your name. It rolls off the tongue with such sweetness. And I think being named "beloved" in any language is wonderful.

I'm glad you did not have to endure the endless "my friends" that we did here. I'm sure your translator just gave up after a while. It was quite annoying. As to his disdain, that could not have been missed.

Hi a cuban in london,

I think I shall start looking at my name in a different light. Maybe I need to look at some old photos of Julie Christie. ;-)

I understand what you mean about the Basque names. Basque and Welsh words are so fascinating to see in text but I am clueless as to one would go about pronouncing them!

As to the part about McCain, Debi has kindly given you the answer. I think most of us realize the extent of McCain's injuries and although there may be disagreement as to his platform, I don't know anyone that does not respect him for his former POW status and the sacrifices he made.

Hi mary-laure,

I happen to be a big fan of your name. I think it's very pretty. And Noor, that's a beauty. Of course it makes me think of a queen, too.

Hi julochka,

It's so funny. I just can't not call you julochka in my mind, even though I know you are Julie #1. Sabin Amalie, that is lovely. If I were her, I wouldn't want to be called anything else, either.

What's in a name? Too bad more people don't speak Danish here...Rove is the embodiment of an ass.

Hi willow,

I realize now how I just really enjoy all of our internet names. They seem to be just perfect. Willow and Willow Manor...I couldn't imagine calling you anything else, nor your elegant abode.

I remember when my sister was trying to come up with her stage name too, for her headshots. It was so hard. None of them ever sounded right and she ended up not using one.

Hi Ms. Hedgehog,

I remember when you first described your internet name to me, and how charmed I was and how perfect it seemed (yet again). But I know your real name to be so elegant and royal. I think it's lovely.

Hi debi,

I think all people who know what is fair and right disdain this language, regardless of what side they vote on. I appreciate your expressing that, and I hope people continue to be concerned about it, because I think it's really frightening.

We have enough issues to face without this sort of thing.

Hi p,

Persephone is a way cool name and it was always one of my most favorite legends. So mysterious and deep and yet ever hopeful.

But your last sentence gave me the chills. I don't want anyone to have blood on their hands. Just the thought of something happening to Obama or his family because of this sort of extremism makes me literally sick to my stomach. I hope they are well-protected.

Hi namastenancy,

"When we pander to hate and ignorance, then we are no better than those who attack our democracy which has taken so may hits in the last years."

We all need to read that many many times. You said it perfectly. I remember thinking, what's the use of Palin crashing the glass ceiling if the shards falling down cut us all to pieces?

Hi Debbi,

Is the Julie thing just a generational thing? Maybe it was. And you are aptly named, quite busy as a bee! How is my outfit coming along?

Hi b,

I'll leave you to brand yourself with whatever tag you see fit. However, I'll ask you to calm down.

No one here, including me, said that your relatives attended those rallies, called Obama a terrorist or said that he should be killed. Before you get all hot and bothered, think about that.

However, these things are being said at Republican rallies, and I'm not sure the demographics of who attends them, but I'm sure that some Republicans do.

It would be very nice if Republicans took their own party to task for this reprehensible language instead of having the other side have to point it out. I would think that as nice as your Oklahoma relatives are, that they don't condone this sort of thing either, and that perhaps it might make them wonder what exactly the McCain campaign is up to, if in fact they decide to support him.

If that was my candidate, I sure would.

So simmer down buddy. And am I surprised that our country is full of racists of every stripe? Not at all. Feel better now?

Anonymous October 9, 2008 at 5:23 PM  

"fluff-brained weak with fear" that cracked me up.

i love little c. i love the post. i love your heart, its more than soft. it is kind and genuine. and very hopeful and faithful.

i am glad to be back blogging so i can read this now.

whats in a name. sarah means princess and of courses the biblical one. but i was named after a bartendar at Garcias restaurant in san diego.

rochambeau October 9, 2008 at 7:42 PM  

Hi Tangobaby,
So glad you wrote this post.
I'm sorry for the person who wont be reading your posts anymore. I'm sorry for those who can't see the big picture of acceptance. Sorry for those who miss out on so many lovely souls in our world. Sorry for those who have supported a person who ruined our country and want to go for more.

About the name thing.
I'll email you later about that one.

robin-bird October 9, 2008 at 10:56 PM  

this is an amazing post! it just flowed on and on making all these great connections. you are a good writer. and i just spent 15 minutes reading all the comments and your responses to those. i love your fearlessness. you are always well informed, thoughtful in your writing. and terribly smart. full of chutzpah too. i admire that! sometimes i am just too nice. i know that about myself.

names. i am completely guilty of calling you by your given name although i did not know at the time that you preferred tangobaby. i love the name julie. so i assumed too much. the first baby sitter i ever had was named julie and we all loved her. to bits.
you know what? this post is so rich i could write a complete essay in response so i will stop right here and go and read about little c.
xo i adore you TB!

L October 10, 2008 at 3:57 AM  

Names are powerful things. There was someone who I used to converse with on a regular basis and I don't think we ever once spoke each others names.

To b. my brown shirted fears were in relation to democratic party activities.

tangobaby October 10, 2008 at 6:49 AM  

Hi sarah,

You would love little C. I can't describe enough how charming and cute and smart she is. And now she is taking salsa lessons. Sometimes she will dance for me, but it takes a lot of convincing. The Boy wants to adopt her and send her to Stanford someday.

Such a sweet comment, thank you. And your name suits you well. I can see you as a princess!

Hi constance,

People read blogs for different reasons, and write them for different reasons, too. I guess she just found out I wasn't the person she thought I was.

I'll look forward to your email then. I'm glad you're settled and back near a computer. I'll come for a visit.


Hi robin bird,

Your enthusiasm for pretty much anything always gives me such a boost. And you always give me such a boost here. I love having such a kaleidoscope of friends like you. You see and think about things that I would never know about and it's great that we appreciate those things in each other.

As to the name thing, don't worry about it. That was a while ago, and I am sure I never mentioned it to you. It's funny how you can have such an attachment to a name that isn't yours...now you make me wonder what mine are!

Hi l,

I guess it's not the name that's important, but the relationship, right?

A Cuban In London October 10, 2008 at 1:54 PM  

Thanks a lot, debi, thank you very much indeed.


Greetings from London.

karey m. October 11, 2008 at 12:36 AM  

oh. my. god.

i have chillbump upon chillbump upon chillbump covering my body with this one. god! what are we doing?!

thank. you.

poopsy October 11, 2008 at 12:47 PM  

Sometimes I'm so disappointed when I click a link in Twitter. This was not one of those times. Brilliant.

Pumpkin Petunia October 12, 2008 at 5:28 PM  

I have chills. You expressed this so beautifully, let it unfold and oh how I knew where you were going. I'm an immediate gratification person, I get to the point more quickly, but your way is better. I'm sure of it.

Thank you for this. And shame on McCain et al. for not only letting this happen, but for happily trying to reap it's benefits.