In ancient Rome, having multiple names was an honor usually bestowed upon the most important people—like Gaius Julius Caesar. During the Middle Ages, people generally had only one fixed name. Any other name that was added was used as a form of description about the person, such as John the Baker or William the Smith. A name also told about the person’s ancestry, such as Jackson (son of Jack), or it was an indication of the place where the person lived, such as Brooke or Ford. It could be an occupation, as well, like Taylor or Cooper. Other middle names described a physical characteristic, such as Cameron (bent nose) or Cole (black as coal). Middle names died out only to pick back up again in Western cultures in the 1700s, when aristocrats started giving their children long names to indicate their place in society. Eventually, middle names were used to help distinguish children in their communities or they served religion roles, such as using a saint’s name to bless the child. Many middle names are surnames depicting a person’s lineage, especially in Spanish and Arabic cultures. They also give a person the option to use either first or middle names, depending on their likes. In my book Inspired Baby Names from Around the World, the point is made that middle often serve as adjectives to describe first names. For example, Nelson Mandela’s middle name was Rolihlahla, which means “pulling the branch of a tree” or “troublemaker.” Nelson means “cloud,” but also means “champion.” This name fit Nelson Mandela extraordinarily well: as everyone knows, he was imprisoned by the South African apartheid government for being a “troublemaker,” and yet he became a champion of human rights. His troublemaking cloud had a silver line, one that inspired millions around the world!
If your name is Betty, it is the English form of Elizabeth, from the Hebrew word el’ishebha, meaning “God is my oath, joined with God, blessed by God.” You are blessed by God by being in union with the Divine. An oath is a promise, and your name reveals that innately you have promised to be in union with God. This joining is mutual, as God is also in union with you. God said in Joshua 1:9: “The Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” Ralph Waldo Trine said in his book In Tune with the Infinite: “To be at one with God is to be at peace.” Through this union there is much blessing. The dictionary tells us that to bless is “to consecrate and to make holy. William Butler Yeats said in his poem “The Two Trees:” Beloved, gaze in thine own heart, / The holy tree is growing there.” Holiness is deep within your heart and is a part of your essence. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said in The Spanish Student: “In that stillness which most becomes a woman, calm and holy, thou sittest by the fireside of the heart, feeding its flame.” Be at peace and know that you are truly blessed and made holy in your union with the Divine.
If your name is Olivia, it is from the Greek word elaia meaning “olive,” or the French word olivia meaning “olive tree.” The olive is the most important classical fruit tree of the Mediterrean basin. A hardy tree, it provided a staple diet and valuable oil used for cooking, light, and anointing. Due to is long life, the olive tree was a central agricultural component of many ancient cultures and was seen as a gift from the gods. The Encyclopedia Judaica states: “There are trees in Israel estimated to be 1,000 years old that still produce fruit. In old age the tree becomes hollow but the trunk continues to grow thicker, at times achieving a circumference of 20 feet….It is an evergreen, and the righteous who take refuge in the protection of God are compared to it.” Historically the olive tree was a symbol of peace, and olive wreathes were awarded to victors of Olympic games, and were worn by brides in ancient Greek culture. In the Bible, olive branches were used regularly to signal the end of a conflict or the approval of a higher power. God sent Noah a dove with an olive branch in its mouth to alert him to the end of the great flood. Still today, to “extend an olive branch” is to make an attempt to end conflict. The flag of the United Nations depicts the world with two olive branches on either side, symbolizing its goal of world peace. William Shakespeare stated in Henry IV, Part II: “Peace puts forth her olive everywhere.” Olive oil was an important part of Jewish culture because of its many uses, being considered the “king of trees.” Regarding the menorah in the Tabernacle, God told Moses in Leviticus 24:2: “Command the children of Israel that they bring to you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to make the lamps burn continually.” Olive oil was a symbol of honor, joy, and favor, and was used to anoint the head and body. Hosea 14:6 says: “Your branches will spread with the beauty of an olive tree.” So extend your branches, your fruit, your oil, Olivia, and anoint peace to those around you. (Pass this on to an Olivia you know.)
The winter season is known as the dark season because it is the season of the year which has the shortest amount of daily sunlight. With the sun not rising right now until nearly 8:00 in the morning and setting by 5:00 in the evening, it makes for a lot of darkness, especially to those who commute to work each day. In the natural world, we know that winter allows the soil to rest and replenish, and it gives foliage a way to rid itself of old growth in order to make room for the new growth of spring. Trees appear stark and barren, as if they were dead, yet we all know that life pulses deep within their roots. The energy that is needed for plants to replenish themselves lies deep within and underground. In many ways, winter is the most important season because nature’s foundational work is being done. Ursula LeGuin once said: “Our roots are in the dark….Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.” Winter is a time to be especially compassionate to ourselves and to others. It is a time to share the warmth of a fire and of a smile. As a Japanese proverb states: “One kind word can warm three winter months.” Winter is a time where “grace growth best,” according to Samuel Rutherford, so allow yourself to be in accord with the rhythm and the patience of this blessed season.
For me, the spirit of Christmas is generosity of heart, which is a miraculous thing indeed. William Hazlitt said: “A gentle word, a kind look, a good-natured smile can work wonders and accomplish miracles.” There are many other quotes that help call the spirit of Christmas. John Ruskin in his essay “Work” said: “Give a little love to a child, and you get a great deal back.” On the outside Christmas may look like brightly wrapped gifts, but on the inside, the heart expands with kindness and joy. Elbert Hubbard said: “Love grows by giving. The love we give away is the only love we keep.” Giving can be big and it can be small. A Japanese proverb says: “One kind word can warm three winter months.” This kind of mindfulness manifests in many forms, one being giving our attention to others. Simone Weil said: “Attention … is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Christmas calls us to be giving and kind to others, and to be kind and generous to ourselves. In his work Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner said: “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.” Then we can extend this Spirit into the year ahead. As Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol said: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Merry Christmas and a peaceful new year.
Have a very merry Christmas season and may this peace and joy extend into the new year.