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What’s in a Name? (Leader of the Wise Men)

US birth certificate

Our names are recorded on our birth certificates

Names are amazing and beautiful. They are relatively small, just a handful of letters, but they are our very first label. They form the basis of our identity and yet are probably the only part of our identity that we do not have any control over. Well, that and our genes, but people won’t generally be asking for a blood test as a matter of course.

This post was inspired by a conversation on Twitter with @rellypops, otherwise known as Narelle. I hope I don’t embarrass her by saying that I thought her name was very beautiful. The funny thing is that if she had not contributed a post to my other blog, I would be thinking she was a guy, based on our earlier conversations. Although on hindsight, Narelle doesn’t sound like a guy’s name.

So, as I was saying, I generally find names to be amazing. In my view, they are the second gift to us from our parents (the first being life). But whatever the reason our parents chose our names, I think God was inspiring them somehow because our names are an indication of our destiny. Of course, with a name like Pravin, I might be a bit biased.

The story of how my parents decided on my name is, er, interesting. Actually, it’s quite mundane. My mum was flicking through some of my dad’s professional membership magazines (he was an engineer). Apparently, she saw the name Pravin in one of the magazines. The story became more interesting when I asked what my name meant. (Actually, I’m not sure whether I asked or whether they just told me.) Apparently, according to them, my name means ‘Leader of the Wise Men’. Talk about ego booster.  Of course, this may have been a little poetic licence, because when I googled my name years later, all I could find for a meaning was ‘expert’, although it could be argued that an expert is a leader of wise men in a way. (Ok, yes, I am biased.)

I have to be honest the meaning of my name did have an influence on me. I did focus more time on academic study, as opposed to social relations, because I wanted to live up to my name. (My academics at school and degree level perhaps didn’t make me leader.) But I also started creating my own narrative. I remembered how, when I was younger, whenever I played a role in the nativity at school, I was always one the wise men (usually the one who brought myrrh). In a another school play, I was a grand vizier. When I played Vashistha in the Ramayana for a tamil community association play, it was not lost of me that Vashistha was the leader of the wise men. Then, from my shortlived career as a journalist to my current role as a PhD student and blogger, perhaps that thought of being some kind of an expert is there, subconsciously.


Hegel - Leader of the Wise Men?

Perhaps its partly why I am drawn to the dialectical philosophy of Hegel. In The End of Human Rights, Costas Douzinas describes as a totalising philosophy that is meant to encompass all philosophies, a sort of theory of everything or logos. Hegel himself was very much an interdiscplinary scholar. In the introduction to J B Baillie’s’s of The Phenomenology of Spirit, Baillie said that Hegel sought to incorporate all the philosophical theories of the past by “giving logical continuity to what in appearance was mere historical sequence, and by showing that his own distinctive principle of synthesis was at once the presuppositions, the outcomes and the completion of his predecessors”. He saw that his principle of synthesis could only be vindicated completely if it contained “every fundamental type of experience in which mind had been historically realised”. In a sense, one could argue that Hegel sought to be a ‘leader of wise men’, although it is up to us to decide whether he was or not. But what’s interesting is that being the leader didn’t mean coming up with his own thing from scratch but humbly recognising the work of others and building on that. The leader is, not the first in line but the last or the follower and is no-one without those who have gone before or standing underneath. It’s like Isaac Newton saying that he was standing on the shoulder of giants.

Now I haven’t really had any wider discussions with many other people about their names, usually because they don’t know. But my dad’s name, which in Tamil culture is my surname, means ‘King of Victory’. Out of respect, I don’t want to go into to many details but I can see how that is an appropriate name for him. Indeed, names must mean something when even God places a value on the names we are given. The first woman was called Eve because ‘she would be become the mother of all life’ and it is our mothers who give us life by carrying us in the womb, giving birth, breastfeeding and nurturing us. (If we think about the use of ‘eve’ now, it refers to the day before, just as our mothers came before us.) God renamed Abram as Abraham (Hebrew for father of many) because he would be ‘a father of many nations’. And then of course, there is Joshua and Jesus, Hebrew and Greek respectively for ‘God saves’, and both them did end up saving people. The irony is that, at the time of the Roman Empire, Jesus was a pretty popular name in Palestine (understandably) – the man who was freed by Pontius Pilate in place of Jesus – was Jesus Barabbas, a convicted murderer. This suggests that a lot of people perhaps do not live up to their (God-given) names.

So what would it mean for me to live up to my name of ‘expert’ or ‘leader of the wise men’. From Hegel’s example, to be a leader means to be a follower and to recognise that you cannot do things on your own, that you need other people.  Certainly, this is what Jesus told his disciples – the first shall be last and the last shall be first. But what does it mean to be wise. Was Hegel a ‘leader of wise men’ or just a very knowledgeable one? After all, a philosopher is Greek for wise man. Is it presumptuous of me to think that it is God’s will for me to be a the leader/follower of philosophers? This is a really difficult. This is the first time I’ve really sat down and thought about the meaning of my name and what it means. Perhaps God told me right from the very beginning what he wanted me to do. I remember being asked at the age of six what I wanted to be  when I grew up and I said that I wanted to be scientist that invents a machine that converts grass to spaghetti (hey, I was six). However, since my degree, I have not gone down the science route. Or have I? If one thinks of the original meaning of science as ‘knowledge’, then surely a student and journalist are both seekers of knowledge, i.e. scientists. And, according to the Book of Proverbs (in the Bible), the beginning of knowledge is the fear/reverence of the Lord. In other words, taking my name in full, my destiny is to be ‘a follower of God’ and ‘Jesus’ (who is the King of Victory). It was never my intention that this post would end like this but I think I can actually say ‘I found my destiny’. Now, I just need to see it through to the end.

Did I not say that names are amazing?


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