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What’s In A Name?

While volunteering at the St. Therese Food Bank recently another volunteer added some grapefruit to items already in a food cart. I asked, “By the way, why are they called ‘grapefruit’ when they don’t seem to have any connection or taste like grapes?” Another volunteer quipped, “Look it up and give us a report next week!”

Well, I did just that. Turns out the fruit is named because it grows on a tree in clusters, much like large yellow grapes. Another explanation is that the premature grapefruit looks similar in shape to unripe green grapes. I didn’t know that. So, was it Adam in the Garden of Eden who was responsible for naming everything we know of in the animal kingdom or that grows on the earth?

In Genesis 2:9-20 it reads: “So the Lord God formed out of the ground various wild animal and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be a suitable partner for the man.”

Did Adam eventually give names to all the fruits, vegetables and other plants, or did he turn that task over to Eve?

Speaking of grocery shopping, our son, Michael, who was born in Fort Wayne but now lives in Colorado, constantly challenges me whenever I say something about going to the grocery. He says, “Why don’t you say, grocery store instead of just grocery?” I answer, “Why the extra word, we know what we mean? It’s like going to the hardware. We don’t add store after hardware. It’s obvious,” I emphasize to no avail.

Actually, “I could care a fig!” And that expression goes back to the earliest days of modern English. To care a fig is to care almost nothing at all. “Fig” evidently was chosen because it represents something small, valueless or contemptible. i.e., a dried fig.

Returning to the Garden of Eden and on the subject of apples, where did the phrase “to upset the apple cart” come from? As far as we can tell, Adam and Eve were only involved with one apple, but the expression means to ruin one’s carefully laid plans, to halt a procedure as effectively as a farmer would be halted if, on his way to market with a load of apples, his cart would be overturned.

Most of the meanings of these curious expressions come from a favorite book of mine called A Hog on Ice, by Charles Funk. It contains the origin and development of the pungent and colorful phrases we all use.

How about we investigate the origin of the phrase “to kick the bucket,” a disrespectful synonym for “to die?” There are a couple of theories of the original meaning of the phrase, but my favorite is an old custom observed in the Catholic church when, after death, the deceased was laid out with a cross and two lighted candles placed nearby. In addition, a bucket of holy water was put at the feet of the corpse so that mourners could sprinkle the body with holy water before leaving. It’s easy to see how the saying eventually came about.

By the way, have you noticed no one “dies” anymore? They “pass” or “pass away,” evidence, I guess, of our fear of death. However, if you still avail yourself of a newspaper and read the obituaries, you’ll still find several ways often written to say a person died; excuse me, passed. Check it out.

I guess we should conclude by asking what’s the origin of the title of this article, “What’s in a name?” In fact, according to Amy Gilmore of writingtips.org, it is one of the more challenging sayings to define. However, it means that despite a name implying a distinguished rank, title or association, it is nothing more than a name, and its implication may not be accurate.

The phrase was written by William Shakespeare in his renowned play, Romeo, and Juliet, during the late 16th century. In the play, Juliet is from the Capulet family and her lover, Romeo, is a Montaque. The two met each other and fell in love, only to realize they were from feuding families who would never approve of their union.

Emotionally, Juliet asks, “What’s in a name, that which we call a rose? By any other name, would smell as sweet.” What she means is that her name does not define her. She would be the same person no matter what name she was given.

In other words, Juliet was saying that her name had nothing to do with who she was. Just as the beauty and aroma of a rose are the same no matter what name you assign it. Juliet was her own person!

Vince LaBarbera
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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer