Wednesday, May 04, 2005

What's In A Name?

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. - William Shakespeare

Nyssa. Where did you get that name mom? Well, it's a long story. Not really. Before you were born I had a long list of girls names. All girls go through the phase of thinking of names for their kids, just like they go through the phase of "trying on" the last name of your boyfriend to see how it looks on paper with your first name. You know, you write it in those linked together puffy letters in the margins of your notebooks or you color in the different letters on the back of a notebook; never in the front where everyone can see. You do the same thing "trying on" names for your kids. I know you do told me you want to name your son Leviathan! Oh, my goodness! That makes Nyssa look downright ordinary. Hopefully you will change your mind because any boy named Leviathan or Leviathon or any variation of that will not stand a chance on any playground. Even making it Levi for short can't save it. The whole name will be on his birth certificate, social security card, tax return, diplomas from high school, college, medical school and he won't be able to hide it. Please reconsider.

Anyway, my list for girls included Shauna Rhunette, Sharla Rochelle, and Sheena Ranelle. I admit these were not very good choices. But I had been saddled with an SR so I thought it would be good enough for a girl. I thought the name Raven was pretty but then you might be blonde (sure enough) and it wouldn't really fit, too dark. I thought about a family name but on my mom's side these were pretty disastrous, especially my grandmother's name, Zula or rather Minnie Zula. I thank God almost daily that he let my mom see the light and forget about that. She gave in to the concept with your uncle. At least she made Grady the middle name and not his first name.

I didn't have such an exotic list for the boys: Christopher Scott, Jason Michael, Jonathan Mark, and Nathan Alexander. Boys names just never seemed to be as important to me as the names for girls. Then when it came time to really pick out a name, the boys names didn't matter at all. I knew you were going to be a girl.

There is where it fell apart. Your father didn't see my concept of girls names. He hated every name I put out. He never gave any specific reason for his feelings but just didn't like them. Of course he had no alternative choices to discuss. I finally started at the beginning of one name book and just went down the list....Ann (no), Abigail (no), Charlotte (no), Helen (no). He was no help.

He was a science fiction fan, always watching the BBC show Dr. Who that ran on PBS for a long time. One of the traveling companions was named "Nyssa" and she was quiet, cute, and very smart the exact opposite of "Teagan", also a traveler who was very ditzy. Thinking that this would be shot down as well, I tossed it out there. He actually liked the name. In fact it was the only name he would agree on. Then it became a matter of figuring out something to go with it that he didn't hate. There wasn't much choice really. Very few names in the book sound right with "Nyssa", you really need a one syllable or two syllable name to fit. Most of the one syllable names he hated or it made a strange initial combo. For example, I knew he hated Ann or Anne and though it sounded OK, the initials would be NAP. Knowing how much you like to sleep now, I think this would have been fine after all. The second name took as much time to figure out as the first and even up to the day they asked for your name for the birth certificate, I wasn't sure if your dad would veto at the last moment. We settled on Marie. No one else in the family was named Marie; we didn't know anyone with that name; the initials were ok and it sounded good with Nyssa. So, that's how you got your name.

What do I know about your "namesake" Nyssa?
1. She is a character, not real.
2. She was a serene, warm but scientifically minded young woman who always kept her composure and her wits about her even if all else was chaos.
3. She was pretty but not a smart aleck.
4. She had lost a father and her home, had seen friends die, but instead of falling apart the circumstances of her life only served to strengthen her character and her resolve.
5. She was a good person.

What have I learned through the years about the name "Nyssa"?
1. It is Greek in origin and means starting point, the beginning or goal.
2. The Scandinavian form of "Nyssa" means friendly elf.
3. There is an historical figure St. Gregory of Nyssa, but I haven't read much about him.
4. There is a Nyssa, Oregon.
5. You are a genus of trees also known as the Tupelos. (I think that is so strange particularly since we lived in Mississippi for 15 years and were 60 miles south of Tupelo.) This genus of trees include the following:
Nyssa aquatica - Water Tupelo
Nyssa biflora - Swamp Tupelo
Nyssa javanica - Indonesian Tupelo
Nyssa leptophylla - Hunan Tupelo
Nyssa ogeche - Ogeechee Tupelo
Nyssa sinensis - Chinese Tupelo
Nyssa sylvatica - Black Tupelo or Blackgum
Nyssa ursina - Bear Tupelo
Nyssa yunnanensis - Yunnan Tupelo

We discovered the Nyssa sylvatica on a trip to Monticello. The trees along the trail outside of Thomas Jefferson's home were labeled with their scientific names and there you were. Turns out that we had one in our back yard, the blackgum tree in the corner. It had the most vibrant red leaves in the fall and the dark blue oval shaped berries.

What have I figured out about the name "Nyssa"?
1. It is uncommon but there are others out there. On one poetry site there were over fifty other poets named "Nyssa".
2. There is a website called Nyssas Around the World.
3. Many people from the deep South have difficulty pronouncing Nyssa. I have heard many variations. Nassa - with a short "a" sound; Nissa - with a long "i" sound; Nessa - with a long "e" sound; Nesse - with two long "e" sounds; Nasser, Nisson, etc.
4. The correct pronunciation: Ny - sa. Accent on first syllable. The "y" has a short "i" sound and the "a" is a short sound like you use saying "a" bird or "a" plane.
5. Some Southerners will NEVER be able to pronounce "Nyssa". Case in point your softball coach. He tried every variation known to man with no success. He just couldn't get it. So what does he do? "I'm just going to call you BOB!" And that is just what he did. He would call you off the bench, "Let's go BOB, take first base for her", "Run! BOB! Run!", and when you were Freshman Maid at homecoming and walked on to the field in your red flowing formal with the hair all done up, he turned to me and said,"That's BOB? Wow! She really cleans up nice!"

So there you have it, the whole story and everything I know about your name. Do you feel dizzy yet? As Dr. Who said, "Wow, that takes me back...or is it forward? That's the trouble with time travel, you never can tell."

1 comment:

Nyssa said...

Hey my name is nyssa and i just simply loved this its so sweet I thought i was the only nyssa out there