Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What's in a Name?

Erin
Origin: Irish
Meaning: Ireland

Aaron
Origin: Hebrew
Meaning: Exalted, Strong

My name has never really held any meaning for me, not that I don't like it. It does not, as with most Erins, denote an Irish heritage (I'm a mix of mostly German and Portuguese). It's not derived from some old family name. More often than not, I say my name too fast and people hear Ann or Karen instead. My parents just liked the name Erin, so here I am.

Aaron, on the other hand, is a common name for Jewish boys. Biblically, Aaron was Moses' brother, his second in command, and the priest from whom all Kohanim (the Jewish priestly class) descend. Because of this, I find a new layer of explanation attached to my name during introductions in a Jewish context. I have two very recent examples of "the name conversation" to share.

The first was at Rosh Hashanah dinner with my fiance's cousin's cousins (he has a large and convoluted extended family, so just go with it). After they finished figuring out how he was related to someone they were also related to, but not related to them directly, the cousin's cousins turned to me:

One said, "What was your name again?"
"Erin."
"Karen?"
"No, Er-in," I enunciated. Then I spelled it out for them, just to be sure.
"Oh. Are you Irish?"
"No, my parents just liked the name Erin."
"It's an unusual Jewish name."
"Yeah, my parents aren't Jewish. I converted."
From everyone, "Oh mazel tov (congratulations)!"

This led to a conversation about why I decided to convert and the differences between Christianity and Judaism, which I won't get into here, but let me just say that a belief in Jesus is not the only difference between the two.

Conversation #2 took place on Yom Kippur between me and the old woman sitting next to me at services:

After sitting next to each other in silence for two hours, she leaned over and said, "You look very young. How old are you?"
"I'm 23."
"I bet people say you look much younger than that."
"Yeah, I usually get 12."
"Oh, you'll appreciate that when you're older."
The age conversation is another one that I have on a regular basis. We were asked to rise as the Torah was taken out of the ark and our conversation ended for a while. Some time later, she leaned over again to ask, "What's your name?"
"Erin."
"Ann?"
"No, Er-in."
She spelled out, "A-a-r-o-n?"
"No, spelled E-r-i-n." At this point in the name conversation I always think to myself, Seriously? Aaron with two As is a male name and I am clearly a not a man.
"Oh..." she said. "That's an odd name."
"Yeah..."