Recently I attended a seminar about social media. When I arrived at the training site, most of the tables in the ballroom were already filled. I sat down at an empty round table in the back of the room. (Total disclosure, I’ve always been a back-of-the-classroom type of gal anyway.) I was ready for the presentation to start, a fresh sheet of notebook paper in front of me and pen poised. After the first presenter started to speak, there were a couple of latecomers and they joined me at the back table.
In between the first and second presenter, we took a quick break. At our back table, the two gentlemen and I exchanged pleasantries. I continued to take some notes, while one of the gentlemen excused himself. The other played with his phone. When things got rolling again, the second presenter asked us to indulge her by participating in an ice-breaker. Each seminar participant was asked to share something special about their name with the rest of the table.
In stranger group settings like that, I just can’t help myself. I’ve tried to hold back and let someone else be the ‘leader’ and direct the conversation. But awkward silence is like nails on chalkboard to me. After a few seconds of collective darting looks and clamped mouths, I started to question the man directly across from me. He told us about his last name and how his grandparents shortened it when they reached Ellis Island. After that, he asked me about my name and I explained that I was born in December. I was a Christmas ‘angel’ according to my mother. The third person at the table had remained silent, so the man with the shortened last name and I turned to him. The man to my right shared that his first name was inspired by a famous Army General. He was named Douglas after General Douglas MacArthur.
“Why was General Douglas MacArthur the inspiration for your first name?” I asked, expecting to hear that he had a military family.
“We share a birthday. We’re birthday buddies,” Doug replied. “You know, I’ve never had anyone ever ask me about where my first name came from. That was nice.”
There are actually a few lessons here.
First, I realized that I didn’t know my own famous person birthday buddy. I’m going to research this in case I end up in a similar ice-breaker situation in the future.
Second, I realized that we own our names throughout our entire lives and some of us like to talk about them. I liked asking and I liked sharing, so I’m going to make it a point to ask people about their names more often.
Third, I realized that I didn’t know much about General Douglas MacArthur. Often, my knowledge of history, whether it’s U.S. or worldwide, is weak. After some light General MacArthur reading, I learned that in 1925, he became the Army’s youngest major general and that he and wife Jean eventually lived in the penthouse of the Waldorf Towers (part of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel). I learned about how the public viewed him and that he spent his entire life serving a country he loved.
What’s in a name?
A name is more than a few letters strung together that we use to address each other. A name can be part of our identity. A name can represent where we’ve come from and potentially where we’ll go. A name can help us connect with others and a name can spark a quest for knowledge.