Sunday, January 25, 2009


I took a goofy little quiz on Facebook yesterday which said that my color is white. According to this quiz, the color white describes me best because I am pure, peaceful, and kind.

Now, I don't know about the validity of the quiz. Or the description of my attributes, with which my family would doubtless take issue.

But it did start me thinking - about something I had not thought much about since teenagerhood. My name, Jennifer, actually means "white."

Growing up, I was always disappointed by this. It was so, you know, boring. Other names meant cool things, like "given by God" or "Beloved". Mine was just a color, and not even a colorful color.

Upon further study, I learned that the name Jennifer is actually Welsh, derived from "Guinevere," who was the bride of King Arthur and lover of Sir Lancelot, knight of the round table. According to legend, Guinevere's affair with Lancelot eventually caused the demise of the kingdom and death of her husband, Arthur, along with a great many of his knights, and she spent the rest of her days in a convent.

That's exciting alright, but doesn't make for much of a role model. Now, a name like Mary, Hannah, Elizabeth, Esther, or Eleanor - those are names with honor behind them, names that bring to mind great people worthy of being emulated.

But Guinevere, portrayed as anything from weak and easily influenced, to manipulative and conniving, doesn't get much credit in any of the stories. Except that she is beautiful, that is one thing they all agree on.

Despite its derivation, I have always liked my name - not Jennifer, but Jenny. It sounds kind of youthful and energetic to me, and those are things I want to be.

Another reason I like my name is that my grandmother, who passed away several years ago, loved it. In fact, she would have been pleased as punch if my parents had gone all the way and named me something really Welsh, like Gwyneth, Guinevere, or Gwendolyn.

Born in Wales around 1910, my grandmother was Welsh through and through. Although she and her family moved to Canada when she was seven, and later to the United States, she always spoke with a Welsh accent. When I was small, she used to travel back to the United Kingdom once every year or two, to visit her sister and other relatives who still lived there.

Later, I attended college in England for three years, and took the opportunity to go to Wales and visit my grandmother's hometown of Hereford. It is a journey I will never forget. In the height of summer, Hereford, on the banks of the River Wye, was picturesque and perfect. The modern homes in the city center gave way to older-fashioned cottages and farmhouses in the outer parts of town, and everyone seemed to have flowers growing in their gardens. Around the village, the hilly landscape was being mowed for hay, and the sweet scent of the drying grass permeated the air.

In another nearby village, I visited my great-great-grandmother's grave, and met several families who were distantly related to me. They took me in like long-lost family, insisting that I stay for several days, showing me all around the town, and introducing me like I was someone very important.

JD and I loved Wales, and during college, spent our most memorable hitchiking trips there. I will never forget, as we hiked along a cliff overlooking the ocean, rounding a turn and seeing Harlech Castle, built right on the cliff's edge, spread out in the distance - or reaching the summit of Mount Snowdon in such a thick fog that we couldn't see more than two feet in front of us.

In fact, I am pretty sure that it was in Wales that I first started to fall in love with JD. We shared the same sense of adventure, the same thrill in new discoveries, the same curiosity to see what lay beyond the next turn in the road - and in Wales, it was always something fascinating.

But I diverge. I was talking about my name, which means "white," and reflecting on the fact that it is derived from Guinevere, who wasn't much of a role model.

Which reminds me of something else. Our new president, Barack Hussein Obama, has just been instated in the most powerful office in the world, in spite of his name!

In this country, post 9/11, in the middle of two wars being fought in Muslim countries, the middle name "Hussein" should be kind of like a lead weight tied around a person's ankle. Like a sure way to get voted out. Like a death sentence for a campaign.

But he did it anyway! In less than two years, this young and relatively unknown man won the confidence of our country and, arguably, of the entire world. He was able to do it, in my opinion, by believing and hoping and visioning the kind of world that could be, and letting us in on the view.

So, as I think about my name, and it's meaning, I realize that it's up to me to make it or break it. There are some things I like about my name and its history, and other things that I don't. I will never act as deceitfully as did Guinevere. But I will always be proud of my Welsh heritage, and proud of my grandmother. I hope that, not only in my name but in who I am, part of her beautiful spirit will show.

I think, after all, that I kind of like the color white. Purity, peacefulness, and kindness are good things to strive for - not only for me as an individual, but for us as a country, and for us as a world.

And, I am just naive (or optimistic) enough to think that we could actually do just that. All around me, I feel the world changing. And maybe, just maybe, all of us, no matter what our history, name, ethnicity, or beliefs, can come together to make the world a purer, more peaceful, kinder place.

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