What's in a Name?

by Phyllis E. Weston

"What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." So said Shakespeare four hundred years ago, and has been quoted as gospel ever since. To me, however, this is a sweeping statement; and I venture now to refute it.

I am thinking of a holiday in Kashmir, the very name of which brings to mind beauties of many kinds from gardens to shawls and carpets. We were staying on a houseboat so that trips to the city of Srinagar (another magical name) had to be made by boat, a shikara. It had a sunshade over the end where we sat and cushions galore for our comfort, and its name was Dream Boat. And it was like a dream to be wafted over still waters to further adventures. On shore we went to the Bund. Such a name for the street fronting the water is a sure sign that the British Raj has been there. On the Bund were restaurants and places of business. Our destination was Ahdoo's. Those soft syllables spelled the name of the restaurant and bakery where we ate walnut macaroons and drank steaming cafe au lait to our stomach's content. And I'm sure Ahdoo's name enhanced our enjoyment of that food and drink.

On the lawn outside sported hoopoes, little brown birds with a crest which opened and closed like a fan as they hopped about their business of finding food. I loved those little birds and I loved their name.

Along the street were establishments where the papier mache for which Kashmir is famous was made, little things such as boxes and big things such as cabinets. Our favorite premises were those of Suffering Moses. We must buy an item bearing his signature which added to the attraction of what was already a conversation piece.

Back in England I mentioned his name to a friend, a member of an old Indian army family. And she could cap that name. "Why," she said, "he must be the successor to Pitiful Pete whose work was so sought after in my time." Don't tell me any names at all would have woven the same spell. Again, in Burma, we had wanted to visit Mandalay; the name has a magic beyond its association with Kipling's song. Well, Burma is a very poor country. One week you could fly to Mandalay, but we were there the week you could fly to Pagan (P' gone), and so we did.

Pagan is famed for temples and pagodas, 2,217 of them by actual count and 4,000 by rumor, and four million according to history. In any event, the 2,217 seemed to sprout like mushrooms as far as the eye could see. The information came from our guide, U Win. Nobody could think that name didn't matter to us. It filled us with confidence. He it was who led the National Geographic Expedition which came to Burma to collect material for an article. U is a title of respect accorded to older men.

U Win won our absorbed attention and appreciation by his timing of our sightseeing: morning visits to enjoy the great statues of Buddha and the beautiful mosaics in some temples, early afternoons for lunch and a much needed siesta.

After the heat of the day had waned came a visit to a lacquer factory, a family enterprise. It takes eight years to complete each piece. The drying takes place underground where no dust can mar this exquisite work.

We were the only visitors at the factory, and the wife of the proprietor served us tea in handleless cups with little cakes made from the sap of the toddy palm, in flavor very like our maple sugar.

We finished the afternoon by climbing the highest pagoda to view the area in its entirety. It was a memorable sight in the long, glowing rays of the late afternoon sun.

One more name to savor and enjoy: here we saw the Irrawaddy River. In all its slow-moving majesty across the plain in front of our bungalow hotel. Hitherto the river was a name attached to a little black-and-white oblong picture in my first geography book. But even then there was magic in the name. Now, that magic came alive.

Yes, names do matter. Think, for instance, how much it matters that people get your name right.


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(c)1995 - Phyllis E. Weston
21st Century Adventures - September/October 1995