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What's in a Name?


Quite a number of people I meet seem to be interested in my eldest daughter's name ... at least I do get plenty of comments and questions about it. It is, as far as I can tell, unique, but unlike other unique 'made-up' names that I have heard, it has no 'strange' feeling. Her name is 'Himi', and how she got it is an interesting story ... my computer did it!

At the time that Himi's mother was pregnant with her, the two of us were living in a small basement suite in Vancouver, Canada. As part of the preparations for the birth we attended a series of prenatal classes, and of course her mother also went for regular medical check-ups. One day the doctor discussed with us the idea of taking an amniocentesis test. This was not something casually recommended for pregnant women, but was suggested for us because of the age factor; 37 was considered a bit on the 'risky' side for a woman having a first baby. After going over the statistical information presented to us, and weighing the risks and benefits, we agreed to the test. It was carried out satisfactorily, showing an apparently normally developing child.

As part of an amniocentesis investigation, medical personnel discover the sex of the coming child as a matter of course, and we were asked if we wanted to be told, or wished to remain 'ignorant' ... It seemed to me to be a lot more fun to know in advance what we were expecting, so we let them tell us ... "XX", they said. The ever-growing 'bump' contained a little girl!

Once we knew that, it was obviously time to find a name for it ... for her. The first decision was the choice between 'western' or Japanese. As this child would be a 'mixed' baby, and hopefully, would grow up in both cultures, we wanted to make sure she had a name that would work on both sides of the Pacific. It would have to be easily pronounceable in both Japanese and English, and not have any strange feeling in either place.

As English is much more accommodating than Japanese in this respect, allowing a wider variety of sounds to be pronounced, it seemed to make sense to form her name from standard Japanese syllables rather than from English sounds. As long as we stayed away from those Japanese sounds that have no equivalent in English, the resulting name should fit our 'transpacific' criterion.

And this is where the computer came in. During those years I was involved with developing computer programs for the company for which I worked, and had a small personal computer at home. It didn't 'speak' Japanese, but using the Roman alphabet equivalents, I programmed it to print out a list of all possible two-syllable combinations in the Japanese language. As there are only 48 sounds, this meant that I was soon presented with a printout containing nearly 2500 items, looking something like this:

aa ai au ae ao
aka aki aku ake ako
asa ashi asu ase aso
ata achi atsu ate ato
ana ani anu ane ano
aha ahi afu ahe aho
ama ami amu ame amo
aya ayu ayo
ara ari aru are aro
awa awo an
ia ii iu ie io
ika iki iku ...

and so on and so on for page after page ...


Now of course, most of these 'words' were complete nonsense. Some were indeed real words ... 'aka' means 'red', 'ato' means 'later' ... and so on. But as at this time I spoke almost no Japanese at all, I knew nothing about this. I simply took a pencil and went through the list marking those items that sounded to me like they would be a good name for a young girl. Himi's mother then went through to see what I had selected. (I don't know to this day what she really thought of all this, but she was very complaisant about it, and went along with my little game ...) In turn, she laughed and shook her head, as she read my 'suggestions'. Of course, most of the items I had marked were completely unacceptable for one reason or another, but there were a few left over when she had finished.

One of these in particular I found attractive. When we had been visiting Japan a year or so prior to these events, I had picked up a map of the country with town names printed in Roman letters, and reading it over again now one of those names jumped out at me. It was the same as one of my selections from the computer list ... Himi. It seemed to fit all the criteria: it was easy to pronounce in both languages, it was euphonious, and it was unique as a person's name (although there is a famous similar name in Japanese history ... Himiko, a semi-mythical queen living many many centuries ago ...).

The more we thought about it, the better it sounded, and when I dug into the dictionary and found that the syllables 'hi' and 'mi' could be matched with the characters for 'sun' and 'seed', that put the final seal on it. Our 'bump' became Himi.

This wasn't the end of the search though, because I wanted to ensure that this child would never be saddled with a 'label' that she found unacceptable or inconvenient. I liked the sound of 'Himi', but what if her future didn't turn out to include much contact with Japan? What if she grew up completely as a Canadian, and didn't want to be constantly reminded of her Japaneseness? We had no idea what her future would hold ...

So we decided to give her a middle name as well, a completely 'normal' Canadian name that she could opt to use if she ever felt that 'Himi' was not suitable. As it had been I mostly responsible for choosing her main name, her mother took the lead here. She went back to her memories of childhood and selected 'Anne', which for her had Canadian resonances due to the popularity in Japan of the 'Akage no Anne' (Anne of Green Gables) stories. As a sort of added benefit, this name too was easily written and pronounced in both languages.

So a few months later, when this little girl came into the world, and the time came to fill out the certification of her birth, she was given a triple 'four letter word' name, Himi Anne Bull. (I noticed then that even her initials hide a sort of pun ... HAB represents the French-Canadian word Les Habitants, meaning simply 'Canadians').

I told all this to Himi just the other day, as I was curious to hear what she thinks about her name, and how she came by it. Her reaction was completely positive. She likes her name very much, and I hope that this is an expression of her general self-confidence. She doesn't seem bothered by the fact that it first appeared on my silly computer printout.

All in all, I think it was a good thing to have done ... not chosen a name ... but created one!