What’s in a name? Does it forge your destiny, or do you live to embody it?
When I started this blog in May of 2012, I intended for it to be an outlet for a few things — to grow in my writing technique, style, and quality; to expose some of my previous writings that were from defunct publications; and to open myself up a bit more in the way of emotions and feelings. While some of these goals were better carried out than others, looking back over the posts I did write proves to me that I lost my way at some point.
I naturally tend to act and speak (and, by extension, write about) things I’m hugely passionate about. I’m sure most people are like this. What I’ve found looking back over my writings on this site is that they boil down to two main categories — soccer and politics.
Anyone that has known me for more than a few years knows that I’ve had my fair share of time in the political realm. Been there, done that, don’t care to go back. However, soccer has, I’ve realized, been the one consistent thing in my entire life. Since the age of five, I’ve played, watched, coaches, or talked about the topic almost nonstop. It took me way too long to come to this realization, but here it is.
While I’ve enjoyed writing about soccer and politics (both as a syndicated writer on other sites and just casually on my own), that’s not what this blog was designed for.
I’ve found that from time to time certain things in life just needs a dose of the reset button. I hit that button once before, about six months into it with this site. At the time, I was very emotionally uncertain, very vague with my feelings, and, quite frankly, I had nothing to write about.
After certain events, especially traumatic, life-changing ones, I believe is a great time to start writing. This was reinforced to me the other week when I read a brief article suggesting personal writing (even if it’s thrown away immediately afterwards) as a way of coping with emotional stress and trauma. There’s something about it that just alleviates anxiety and frees the psyche of the bound-up emotions that may otherwise not come out.
So what the hell am I rambling about right now, and how does it relate to names? Glad you asked…
I named this blog Waldlichtung for a reason. A few, actually. Firstly, it’s a fun word (and a difficult one) to say. Secondly, it’s German, and I’ve long had an affinity towards the German language, partially because of my ancestry. Lastly, and most importantly, the name Waldlichtung embodies me, as a whole person. This just isn’t limited to the name itself (Waldlichtung means “a clearing in the forest”) as it relates to my name (Wesley mean “a western clearing” or “west of the lea [clearing]”). It also relates directly to my personality, my psyche, my actions in life, my emotional states, my relations with others, how I handle specific situations, and many more.
Let me explain with some examples. When my family and I were preparing to move west from Pennsylvania, I had a strong urge that this was “to be”. Simply put, my name meaning “western clearing” had a certain poetically appropriate ring to it. We were moving west, obviously, west of a clearing (the Great Plains?). Whatever physical attributes I wanted to assign to things at that time, it was relatively easy. But beyond this lay something deeper.
I had realized as a young child in grade school that I had a certain magnetism to the west. I never knew what to make of it at that age because I simply didn’t know enough about anything to make a certified stance on things. I remember doing a (rather simplistic) report on the State of Montana in 5th grade, complete with a colored poster. I was fascinated with Montana at that point, even vocally saying I was going to move there one day. When I got a bit older, I realized that exploration in general (and maps specifically) was something I enjoyed. The west, especially the mountain west, appealed to my senses in this regard. Mountains are alluring, mysterious, formidable, sometimes terrifying. It wasn’t until 2001 when I made a trip to southern Washington that I traveled this far west and was able to see it for myself. Add to this my trip to Alaska in 2006 (the Last Frontier), then my honeymoon in 2008 to Wyoming and Montana, and again to Colorado in 2010. There’s an attraction, most definitely.
After the move to Utah in 2013 and the personal emotional despair that followed, I began thinking that perhaps “west” was unending. After all, the cardinal directions, at least as far as east and west go, are a continuous loop, relative to your personal positioning. West of Pennsylvania could be anything, really. That’s the nature of a spheroid.
Was this longing to “go west” unquenchable simply because the nature of the direction was relative to where I happened to be standing? Once I got west, would I be (was I) still craving, searching, yearning for something even further? I was unsure about this for quite awhile.
It wasn’t until I began the business that I was certain this is where I belonged. “Home” finally started settling in my mind, my senses, my being. Of course, this came crashing down over a few months’ time. And when it did, I began questioning my present standing again, asking if I wasn’t far enough west; asking if I had yearned to go west all those years ago because of some silly transliteration of my given name and a cardinal direction. I also starting asking myself that if I was always yearning to run west, what was it I was running from? Something from my upbringing or childhood? Was I running from myself? This latter notion appealed to me because, for much of my life, I had never been satisfied with myself, on any level really. Always something to improve upon, always my own worst critic.
Was this running symbolic of a clearing? Was I beginning to look for a way out of the forest, searching from sunlight, an exit from the suffocating depth of my internalization?
A clearing contrasted to a forest is interesting to me. Folk tales portray the forest to be frightening, haunted by thieves, predators, and spooks. It’s where naive children went to be cooked and eaten. Even when dear old granny lived in a cottage in the forest, the forest still pervaded. The wolf found a way in, the house was never really safe.
If you’ve ever been to or have seen pictures of the Black Forest in Germany (another reason I think the name of my blog is so apt), this forest lives up to its name. The German word for forest (wald) gives me a connotation of strangling for some reason, like bracken and mire do. Despite this, there’s a comfort to me of being inside the forest, amongst the trees. Whenever I’ve gone for a hike, I’ve always enjoyed the parts in the forest the most. A clearing always seems so vulnerable, so naked, so exposed.
Years ago, when I used to casually listen to the Howard Stern Show, I remember hearing a segment about personality types. They gave an exercise as such: you’re in a forest, all is still and quiet, and an animal suddenly appears in front of you. What animal do you see?
My surprisingly instantaneous answer was “fox”. But why? Conveniently enough, apparently “fox” was a rather common answer to this psychological question. A fox meant that you tended to be an observer, skirting around the fringes, not wanting to be seen yet always active. Foxes are elusive (I’ve only ever seen two in my life so far), they’re sly, sneaky, and they avoid conflict and clearings in order to protect themselves.
About three years ago, as an aside, my son and I were driving on a cold December morning through rural Pennsylvania when suddenly I realized in the cornfield out the passenger window sat a fox, his demeanor almost passive, almost casual. He sat tail draped around his feet presumably for warmth. As we drove by, he turned his head and his gaze followed our car until we were both out of sight from one another. His expression reminded me of an elderly man sitting on a porch, watching a stranger pass through town.
Am I a fox? Do I avoid the clearings in life because I seek the refuge of the forest where I’m able to hide, disguise, observe without being seen? Why?
We’re all familiar with the saying “I’m a lover, not a fighter.” It’s often made me think — loving what; fighting whom? As I aged, this thinking never changed. Sometimes I felt like I was a lover, not a fighter. At other times I felt I was quite the opposite. Still it confused me.
When my wife was pregnant with our son and we were researching baby names (we already had his picked out, but that didn’t prevent me from looking up any name I was curious as to the meaning), I naturally looked up my own name. My first given name was always obvious to me as to the meaning; I had learned this in 5th grade when Mr Harmon educated me on the fact (from a baby name book, no less).
However, my second given name, Scott, was a queer one I thought. Whenever I heard my full name as a child, I immediately thought of a golden yellowish grass (relating it to Wesley) and then an emerald green (relating to Scott). I wasn’t far off in my colorized assessment. The name Scott is linked to the ethnicity of the same name, the Scots. And this term Scots was given because of their war-like nature from centuries ago. Scott means Warrior.
In Pennsylvania, where I grew up, many of the mining and manufacturing towns during the 18th and 19th centuries were made up of Scotch-Irish folk. I happened to live in the only bastion of Germanism in the state, the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch country. From my research, the Scotch-Irish (and even just the Scots) were rabble-rousers, always looking for a fight whether it were with the Natives or with the Anglican settlers or with the German refugees. There are stories of the Scotch-Irish men doing unmentionable and atrocious acts to Natives, especially women, many times unprovoked. In Lackawanna County and the smaller mining communities to the south, the Scotch were so violent that often they were expelled from the cities and towns altogether, moving further west into the frontier to seek out new homes and professions.
Is this how I view myself? A fighter, a rabble-rouser, a menace?
There’s a difference between a warrior and just a fighter. The latter could mean a boxer, entering a bout to earn a living, yet still not openly and assertively malignant. It could also mean someone that could cause trouble, a bully type. But a warrior is associated with a code of honor, a belief structure, a higher calling than merely to fight and cause violence.
The Scots, like all of the British Isles, were settled by Germanic peoples over the course of a couple thousand years, maybe more. The Romans stayed largely out of Britannica due to the war-like tribes that lived there. And rightly so. The post-Roman era saw the rise in many of these tribes, one being the Scots from the north. These were the people of William Wallace, and their elite warriors, the Woad Raiders, were formidable even to the better-armed English troops during the medieval period.
These Woad Warriors were terrifying, painting their faces in blues and reds and yellows, heralding back to their tribal origins like their Germanic kin across the sea. They were simple soldiers, armed with a long sword and a simple leather or wooden shield, typically with no other armor to speak of. These weren’t knights, and they rarely rode horses. They were footsloggers, beserkers. They were also fanatical and committed to preserving their belief structure and way of life from outside forces, especially the English.
But enough of history for now. I bring this up because I’ve concluded recently that I am, in fact, not a lover, but a fighter. Although not a fighter in the usual sense. I am a warrior. I fight for my beliefs, my ways, my wants and desires. At times this comes across as simple conceitedness; at others as compassionate fervor. Regardless, a warrior I am.
Finally, we arrive at the surname; the name that ties me with my ancestors.
A brief tale of my family origins: my ancestors were poor farmers growing up in the Rhineland-Palatinate region of southwest Germany. During the 30 Years’ War when the French invaded this section of the Rhine, my ancestors were displaces, their farms pillaged by the gallivanting forces of the French Crown. Onto rafts and barges they went, fleeing their homeland, arriving in Amsterdam where Queen Ann the Benevolent whisked them away to London and the surrounding towns. Discontent grew in the native English when they saw the compassion heaped on the lowly German peasants by their monarchy. Ann had enough of it, and, seeing two birds she could hit with a single stone, sent many of the German refugees (some of my ancestors included) to the New World on a mission with Robert Livingston to harvest pine pitch for the Royal Navy in the frontiers of southern New York and northern Pennsylvania.
This “business enterprise” was a joke, and many of the Germans were relieved of duties early into the expedition. Konrad Weiser, the great explorer and friend of the Natives, took a group down the Susquehanna River, up the Swatara Creek, and into the Schuykill region of Pennsylvania. Some of these were my ancestors.
About 80 years after this, another of my forefathers came across the Atlantic for a very different reason. It was the War of Independence, and the British had called upon Hessian mercenaries to fight their war. A great uncle was sent to Trenton, then to Georgia where he went AWOL and retraced his steps back to the Schuykill and Mahantango regions where he changed his name and settled down with a nice German farm girl.
These name changes were evidently common in my family. My surname, Brown, was once Braun. Kehler was altered to both Kahler and Ceylor. And the Mattern/Mottern/Matter/Motter names were synonymous through the PA Dutch region, not all of them being linked in the obvious ways.
The name Brown is common. The English, Scottish, Irish, and even the Dutch all had Browns. In Scotland, the Browns even had a family coat of arms. Not so for the poor peasant farmers of southwest Germany. The Palatinate region was the armpit of Germany at that time. And we Brauns were had little even here. Quite appropriately, the name is in relation to the color, even in the German.
I had once read that the name Braun was comparable to the British name of Cooper. That is, a barrel-maker. Indeed, an ancestor of mine, Michael Brown, was a furniture-maker in Northumberland County. Whether the barrel-making part is true or not, the name is indicative of a simple, blue-collar existence. The name Braun is the 22nd most popular name in Germany, even today. And Brown is ranked 4th in the United States.
We’re a common folk, and always have been. And so am I.
So what’s in a name? Does a name contain your destiny, or do you live to embody its meaning?
For me, a little of both. I see an undeniable path I’ve taken in my life that pushes me towards realizing the potential in my name — the persistent and early urge to move west; the way I’ve always had to stand out and fight for what I believed and wanted; the commonality and tempering of my existence.
Equally so, I feel I’ve come to embody more so what my name means. This is purposeful, determined, voluntary. Despite the yearning since childhood to look west, I still made the choice to take those steps and arrive at where I’m at now. I’ve also chosen to hone my skills as a warrior and stand up for what I believe in, finding something worth fighting for with a passion and fervor. Yet I’ve become aware that I’m still an average peasant, descendant to poor refugee farmers that spawned new generations of farmers.
At times, these aspects of myself are at war. How do I stand proud and strong when I’m hiding in the dark and gloomy forest, or behind my mob-faced commonality? How do I appease those like me if I’m rocking the boat by fighting for my beliefs and desires? How do I challenge myself in personal growth when I’m so afraid of exiting the forest to feel the warmth of the sun in the clearing? There’s also a clear contrast of the explorer looking for new frontiers and the farmer looking for a higher yield.
I’m a walking contradictory, yet a common one at that. A clearing in the forest, where you least expect. And, like that fox standing nascent in the corn field, away from protection and disguise, ready to embrace something different, I’m capable of the nakedness and growth I so badly need in my life. Sometimes we forget that the fox is still a canine, a predator, too. It hunts, fights, confronts. Just like the warrior Scots.
I’ve learned to embrace my names, despite their lack of intended meanings. My goal is to increasingly live out those meanings in life. This site should be a glimpse of that, a clearing, if you will.