We received recently a card from some uncle or another, which had the felicity of referring to our Son, David Ebenezer, as “Little Eb,” a name which Valerie and I found positively delightful, but which also has set me to thinking: Names are important things, and one can’t be too careful about them.
We have a tradition on my side of the family for avoiding at nearly any cost the possession of a name which may have the misfortune of being perceived as “normal.” One of the reasons when I was born for naming me Kyle was that, to my parents’ knowledge, there wasn’t anybody currently alive who had that name, and it was much to my mother’s chagrin to discover that she was only five years ahead of the trend: There are young people nearly everywhere now, 25 years or younger, who are named Kyle – some of them female! This is also the reason why my mom has insisted that under no circumstances will she suffer to be called “grandma” or “grammy” or “meemaw” or anything like that, which might cause her to be mistaken for the normal sort of grandparent – whatever that may be.
So names are important, and not least are nicknames, which if injudiciously assigned can have disastrous effects. My sister, for instance, formerly Francesca French: was she going to be called Fran? Not on your life. So she has always been Ces (which of course has come back to haunt her: Now she is called Ces Cox, which is just the sort of thing we had hoped to avoid.)
It is for this reason that I will not have a son called Junior. And I was a little non plussed about calling him David – such a normal name – and proud of Ebenezer. Little Eb – what a delight. Nevertheless, we named him David, and I won’t be calling him by his middle name, as if his first were an embarrassment. No, David is a good name; one that, because it is so common, has been overlooked as to its true potential for delightful and interesting nicknames:
To begin with, David is a Hebrew name. This is particularly important because Hebrew is one of the oldest written languages, and so it is both simple and stunningly complex. Nearly every word in Hebrew begins with a relatively concrete meaning, which is then applied through increasing levels of abstraction to mean a huge number of additional things. In addition, Hebrew became a written language sometime before the concept of a vowel was truly fleshed out, so until some time in the 600’s AD, Hebrew was a language without vowels, and when they were added, in order to avoid disrupting the alignment of various ancient texts, vowels were merely added as minute dots and scratches around the various consonants.
So in Hebrew, the proper spelling for David is (reading right to left) דוד, or DVD. By extension, I suppose it would be appropriate to call my son Flick, and advise him never to go into acting. Adding the vowels in, the way it is normally pronounced would be spelled דָוִד. The little t-shape under the D is called a qamats, and is pronounced like a long A. The dot under the V is called a hiriq and is pronounced like a long I. Dahveed.
Now, the V, or Vav in the middle is really the one to watch because long before the point-system was invented, they used to use this guy at the very least to give the reader a hint that there was supposed to be a vowel in that spot. As a result, sometimes the V is silent and all you pronounce is the vowel that is attached to it. And with different vowels occasionally come different meanings. For instance דָוִד is a name, but if you move the dot to the top of the ו (thus: וֹ), it becomes a holam vav. The V sound disappears entirely, and all we are left with is a long O. This word דוֹד, is pronounced Dode, and it means “beloved,” as in “I am my beloved and he is mine.” “My beloved” is spelled דוֹדי, and pronounced Dodie. So there I have two new nicknames for my son: Dode or Dodie. Either one will do.
Lastly, the dot can be moved to the middle of the Vav, thus: וּ. This is called a dagesh (I believe) but it makes the sound of a long U. This is a nonsense word in Hebrew. It means nothing. But I think I may be using this one quite often.
So here we have a pretty list of unusual nicknames for my son: Daveed, of course, and Little Eb, but also Davdi, “my david.” Then there is Dode, “beloved,” or Dodie, “my beloved.” And when all else fails, I may call my son “Dude” knowing full well that I am being perfectly erudite and furthermore pronouncing his name exactly as it is spelled.