My teenage son, Alyosha, is very sensitive to the importance of names.Perhaps this is because his own name, which is Russian, has several variations, including"Alyoshka," "Alyoshinka," and "Aleksashka." Little did I suspect that the very concept of bestowing a name would become a bone of contention between us.
It all goes back to a student I had in my college biology course last year.As I was reading the roster on that first day of class, I halted at a name that captivated me, and was clearly native American.I examined it, and then, after a moment's pause, slowly marched the syllables out:"Min-quan-sis."
Then I looked up at the class and allowed impulse to carry me away."Whoever this is," I announced, "I need to say that I think this is the most beautiful name I've ever heard."
A young woman with distinct Indian features slowly raised her hand and threw me a sheepish look.
"Am I pronouncing it right?" I asked her.
She nodded, and then echoed, "Minquansis."
During the course of the semester I used her name at every opportunity, for the sheer pleasure of speaking it.To me it drew to mind the image of a canoe bobbing on a summer lake, against the backdrop of a rocky shore lined with tall pines.
I am happy to be able to say that Minquansis did well.When she exited the course at the end of the semester, I truly lamented the loss of opportunity to recite her enchanting name.
The scene now moves to a recent day, when I suggested to my son that we obtain a companion for his solitary parakeet, whom he had named Harpo for its inability, or lack of willingness, to speak.Alyosha was all for it, and even gave me carte blanche to select the new bird.
The next day I went down to the pet store and found a young, buff-yellow female, the type of bird I could imagine alighting on a canoe bobbing on a summer lake ringed with pines.
I brought her home and placed the nervous creature in a separate cage set next to Harpo, who immediately retreated to a far corner of his own domain and eyed the new arrival with pointed interest.
When Alyosha came home from school that day, he immediately sought out the new budgie."She's beautiful," he said as he stared through the narrow bars of the cage."What should we name her?"
I looked up from the little yellow bird."Since you named Harpo, I want to name this one."
Alyosha assented."OK, so what are you going to call her?"
Without a moment's hesitation, I uttered the name that had lain dormant in my larynx for nigh on a year - "Minquansis."
Alyosha's eyebrows took flight."What kind of a name is that?" he scoffed.
"Passamaquoddy," I said."Isn't it beautiful?"
Alyosha shook his head."I don't like it."
I was plainly astonished."How could you not like it?" I protested. "What would you name the bird?"
Alyosha cast his eyes down, deliberated for a moment, and then, looking up at me, announced, "Goober."
Although I make it a point never to make light of my son's suggestions, I couldn't help myself."Goober?" I echoed. And then again, "Goober?"
I stepped in front of the cage as if to shield Minquansis from my son's influence."Don't even say that near this bird. She might repeat it."
"It's a great name," argued Alyosha.
"Of course it is," I countered."For a peanut."
Alyosha threw up his hands and retreated, while I turned to the cage and regarded Minquansis with renewed affection.I was flush with the delight of knowing that I had prevailed in bringing such nominal poetry into our home.
Or so I thought.
That night, while reading in bed, I heard Alyosha rise quite late.His normally heavy step was now a light, rapid flutter.I listened as he halted and then, after a moment's silence, heard him whispering.
Curious to the bursting point, I quietly got up and ascended the stairs until I could just get a peek at my son in his bedclothes, kneeling before Minquansis' cage, murmuring, over and over again, "Goober.Gooo-berr."
There is nothing more formidable than a boy's will, in the face of which compromise is usually the only solution.
And that's how Minquansis Goober came to live in our house.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society