Monday, 28 March 2011

Named in honour of the weather....

What's your name?

Whether you are called, Bob, Jane, Herbert or Paris, have you ever considered the amount of cultural baggage that comes with something as simple as a name?

Whilst at a recent research network workshop which aimed to develop ideas of how everyday culture captures and embeds a memory of past weather and climate in society, I was forced to think a little further on the cultural significance of these simple monikers bequeathed to us by our parents upon our birth.

The research network, The Cultural Spaces of Climate investigates how cultural traditions such as storytelling, art, the media, memorials and even place names provide a record of events such as floods, droughts and even everyday banal weather such as drizzle.

Dr Cerys Jones, from the University of Aberyswyth was speaking about; Language, Culture and the Welsh Weather. She started by asking how many names do you know that relate to weather - cue audience responses such as Blizzard, Snow, Flood etc...

No - not surnames, how many first names do you know? ----Silence.

It seemed an odd question for someone who only speaks English. Errrrm.... Dawn?!

But of course the title of the talk included the fair land the French call Pays de Galle; Wales. Dr Jones then informed us there are plethora of christian names in the Welsh language which relate to weather, traditional names such as;

Haf (m) and Hefin (f) - Welsh for summer (OK one we have this one for females in English, I tut at not thinking of this one when the initial question was asked!)
Eira (f) - the word for snow
Enfys (m & f) - rainbow
Tesni (f) - warmth from the sun

Further there are names which have appeared in the last few years such as Heulog (m & f) - sunny, and most interestingly Glaw (m & f) which means of all things rain!

Until the final name, Glaw, all of the names listed are most commonly thought of as positive phenomena, having intrinsic beauty.

What does having so many weather related names in common parlance, tell us about Welsh culture? Further when presented in stark contrast against the absence of similar names in English - what does this tell is about each country's relationship with their natural environments?

The existence of Welsh weather related names suggests that the weather is traditionally an important part of everyday Welsh life. In what historically has been a predominantly rural nation, which often receives the brunt of Atlantic weather systems this may come as no huge surprise.

The continued popularity of these names and the creation of new ones, show us that the weather is still a key component of Welsh culture. Despite a modern lifestyle which puts the majority of the population within the managed realms of urban Britain many parents still choose to name their offspring after the external unpredictable elements which happen outside of their central heated lives.

If you think that the cultural quirk of having lots of weather related names is fascinating consider the cultural norms of the Philippines where nicknames such as BumBum are popular, and there is even a politician called Joker!

Its a shame that most modern name trends seem driven by celebrity culture and not the everyday beauty of our environments - who knows one day I may have the brass to call a child of my own drizzle!

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