What is a name? Is it just a personalised string of letters? A meaningless word that hovers over us from those initial stages of eat, sleep and poop. More than a meaningless word, I think a name is a specific reference. A foundation on which those around us piece together a collage of who we are and what we mean to them.
When our names are used, key thoughts, memories, feelings and emotions are triggered and brought to the forefront of the mind. You could look at a name as ‘just a word’, but it’s more. It’s an identity. A legacy. It’s who we are, who we were and who we can become.
For some, a name might bring birth right, prestige or fame but ultimately, no matter who we are or the name given, how we live matters. What we do with our lives will be the final decider in what our name really means to the people in our lives and to our descendants after we’re gone.
As a baby, I was given the names ‘Michael Joseph’. Having had it follow me around for over twenty-eight years. I like it. We’ve been through a lot together. School registers. Opening a bank. Passport registration. It’s been fun. We’ve met many people together and it’s been very helpful with introductions and over time has been the source of some very special personalised nicknames such as ‘Shelly’ and ‘Micky-Joe’ (Mum only). It has also allowed for some truly ‘hilarious‘ moments when people cleverly refer to the microwave as a ‘Michael-Wave’. My name and I. We’re inseparable. It’s a truly wonderful union.
So. I’ve recently taken an interest in genealogy which involves learning the names of family that has come before. Spending hours sat at my computer, sifting through names. I have been trying to develop a greater understanding of who my ancestors are. On my Mum’s side, there are hundreds of names. Folders full of information dating back centuries. My Mum has worked hard compiling all the information she could find into the known family tree we have today.
Over the past few weeks, I have been on the hunt. Researching, clicking through my Dad’s historical records for hours at a time, learning about our ancestors. It isn’t easy. From what I have been able to gather, a shortage of paper during the war resulted in the destruction and recycling of fifty years’ worth of Irish records. This has created a huge hole in information and a greater stumbling block. This lack of records makes the task feel impossible.
During this time babies were born, lives were lived, love blossomed, sweethearts married and death passed over. Looking at these records it occurs to me that a name really isn’t just a meaningless collection of letters, it’s a person and their stories. It’s a link through time that transcends death. The good, the bad, the hardships, the joyous moments. Looking at these records. It’s sad. I want to know who they are. I want to be able to know their names, learn how they lived, who they married and picture what their lives would have been like.
For now, it seems their names might be lost. I hope not. But whether they are or are not, I believe in a God who sees all and knows all. We may be unable to learn of them in this life, but through Him, we will one day experience a great reunion.
I’m not giving up. Somewhere there might exist a link, opening the door to the many generations before. If there is, I hope to find it and if there is not, I look to the day I can sit down with them in person and introduce myself as their Great, Great, Great… Grandson. Cousin. Nephew.
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