In a Name

In some  reading completely unrelated to last month’s Monday Project theme, I came across this article on onomastics. It’s funny to think that the way in which we organise people names now is not how it’s always been, and it’s not even how it is in all the cultures that exist on this planet right now. Maiden names, at least in the way we think about them, are mostly a Western society concern.

I remember writing an essay for uni a few years ago (well, okay, probably five years ago) for a subject called something like ‘Mass Media in Asia’ and getting very confused about how to correctly site a Chinese academic. Which of the names on the page was his family name, and which was his given name? I know that in a lot of Asian countries the order in which those names appear is different, and I was concerned about committing some kind of citation faux pas, especially because my tutor was Chinese. I probably should have been more concerned about getting the essay written, really, but that’s another story.

I ended up emailing the tutor to ask. He was helpful and kind in his response — but he probably thought it was hilarious.

I’m not sure I have a point here, but I have a feeling that this theme will continue to run around in my head, and I might find myself reading more about anthroponomy than is probably healthy.

I’m being a little lazy, so I’ve also posted this on

The Train

The steam train spelled out a name that wasn’t his. Each of the little wooden carriages was a letter with a different grain and colour; all with knots, but none of them the same size or shape.

This was his favourite toy and he had cried when his mother tried to get rid of it. He was embarrassed that he had cried, but it had worked.

Before he played with the train he liked to sit and look at it. He would separate the carriages from each other and from the engine and sit them a small distance apart. He liked the way the timber in each piece of the train was like water, swirling and flowing in a different way to every other wooden stream.

The timber smelled like the small forest that sat behind his grandparents’ house. The back right wheel of the engine had a small squeak, like a baby mouse, he thought.

He sat with crossed legs and watched the stationery, separated little train, inspecting it for new scratches at the same time as imagining the boy whose name it spelt sitting on the floor and pushing it around. In his mind, the engine’s wheel squeaked like a chorus of mice; the train wheeled around corners, capsized, and was miraculously restored to the haphazard tracks it travelled. The boy whose name it spelt made all the appropriate noises with great gusto and no shame: he was lost in the world of the train.

The train would speed through the afternoon and the two little boys – the one whose name the train didn’t spell and the one whose name it did – would sit in the driver’s compartment together. Their hair would be full of knots and their faces covered in soot and grime. They would shriek in unison as they approached a very tight corner at a dangerous speed, and sigh with relief when the train finally pulled into the last station of the evening.

In the room where the boy whose name the train didn’t spell sat, the train’s engine and all its carriages were still separate. He now moved to join them all and slowly pushed the train back into its box.

Carefully he closed the box and put it back on the shelf in his cupboard where he kept his favourite stones. In the cupboard in his mother’s room was a similar wooden train that did spell out his name, but he had never played with it, despite much encouragement to do so. Only with his brother’s train could he imagine they were playing together.