Finally Making Peace With the Family Name

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MY son is not given to playing soldiers or cowboys. He prefers instead those games that draw upon mystic legend and fantasy. Conan the Barbarian has more appeal than Roy Rogers.

One of our games is to make up names for ourselves as we roam our make-believe world, seeking honor and excellence in the destruction of evil and misfortune wherever it may be.

Our names are our own names in reverse. My son is Trebor, son of Yor. His sister is the Princess Haras, and his mother is the Lady Adnil. We live in the kingdom of ASU. My son, and daughter, delight in this game. One day, my daughter asked me where the name Barnacle came from and what it meant.

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There was a period in my life when I seriously considered changing my name. It was not a short period. It stretched from the days when what toys you had and games you played were important to your self-esteem, to the days when what clothes, hairstyles, and girlfriends you had were important to your pride and ego.

Fed up with the teasing of other children, of which "Barnacle Bill the Sailor" was the most harmless, I vowed that when I grew up, I would change my name. Fortunately, the age of individualism came along, and I was convinced, with the help of lots of Smiths and Joneses that the name Barnacle was something to be retained and treasured, not forsaken.

When my name started to appear in print in various publications, I expressed my old fancy of wanting to change it to something more stylish. My friends responded with a chorus of "Why?" Yes, why indeed. Forgetting the teasing of young children, I decided that I should look deeper into the origins of Barnacle.

I found several explanations for the origin of my family name. One holds that the name is French. Bernicle is an old French word, meaning something that clings or clamps. I read that a similarly named device was used for controlling animals. It clamped on the animal's nose and held the creature firmly under control.

In northern England, pince-nez spectacles are known as "barnacles," and the type of Canada goose with a ring around its eyes is known as the Barnacle goose. And the limpet, known as the barnacle, clings and clamps to rocks and ships' hulls, hence the name.

The other explanation is more romantic and legendary and is the one I prefer. It originates from the time when Celtic tribes fought each other for power and position. The usual spoils of victory meant that you killed off everyone and took everything. One tribe, however, decided that while it was still proper to kill off the men, there might be some advantage to keeping the women and children, preferring to convert them and assimilate them into their own tribe.

As the soldiers went into battle, the chief would call out: "Bairn nay kell, bairn nay kell" ("Children no kill" or "Do not kill the children"). Eventually, the words formed to be the modern named "Barn-a-cle." This version is related in at least one historic novel about ancient Britain. It's a nice story and not entirely unbelievable, and shows that the name has either Celtic or French origins.

Robert (as Trebor) preferred the Celtic-tribe version. He saw himself as a beacon of splendor in a dark and pagan world, saving women and children, defeating iniquity, and righting misdeeds. The Princess Haras took the view that it really didn't matter what name you had - it was how you treated it that really mattered. I made a mental note to myself to read her the lines from Romeo and Juliet: that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. It is important for my children to know that living in deference to goodness and principle would do more for our name than merely changing it.

Iam now pleased with my name. I tell my children that the higher meanings of the name Barnacle embody cohesion, tenacity, adherence, inseparability, and indivisibility. I am glad that, although given the option to retain her own name, the Lady Adnil adopted mine in marriage.

I have taken it beyond the depiction of some lowly sea mollusk and from the origins of some remote Celtic tribe. My family names of Hatherall, Pritchard, Van Jeerkins, and Simons were there for the asking, but I kept the name of Barnacle.

In my adopted home of the United States, this is especially important. After all, I tell those who might question my name: "Barnacles came over on the Mayflower!"

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