“Proper names are poetry in the raw. Like all poetry they are untranslatable.”
I was planning a lesson with one of my counterparts, when she told me her long name. Mongolians tend to have a short name, which those close to them use, and a long name, which is used more formally. Think “Alex” versus “Alexander” or “Alexandria.”
“My name is Batdavaa. It means strong Monday,” she told me.
A quizzical look swept over my face. I recalled a moment in a dance club in Darkhan when a drunken man placed his arm around the shoulders of one of my compatriots. After a brief exchange, the Mongolian man let out a big laugh and walked away. I asked my friend what he said that made the man laugh, but my friend shook his head.
“I didn’t say much of anything. He told me his friend’s name was ‘Thursday.’ He said it was a silly name and walked away,” he said.
I asked Batdavaa why people are named after the days of the week, or why they are included as part of their name, at the very least.
“Sometimes Mongolian people like to name their children after days of the week. It is good luck, sometimes,” she explained.
The names can contain some Tibetan words as well. Davaa is the Tibetan word for Monday. The Mongolian variation for Monday is quite different. Usually, if you can’t find the word in your dictionary, it is Tibetan in origin.
Listening to names has helped me with the language. I have learned some interesting words, as well as the days of the week, thanks to dissecting the names of others. A month or so later, I was speaking to another counterpart of mine. I had, embarrassingly so, forgotten the name of one of the Mongolian language teachers at my school. My counterpart said her name was Enkhjargal.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Do you know Enkh? It is peace. Jargal is happiness,” She explained.
“So her name is ‘peace-happiness?'”
“Oh, yes. That is right.”
It’s hard to forget someone’s name when you realize the meaning behind it, especially when it’s brimming with such positivity.
I find the combinations quite fascinating. You’ll see many women with flower in their name, you’ll see a few peace and happinesses here and there, as well as many people of iron, sun, heroes, and beams. It has become a hobby– and boon to my language learning– to figure out what people’s names mean. While I am translating the names, much to Mr. Auden’s potential posthumus dismay, I still think it is their inherent poetry that fascinates me. There’s a sort of beauty in the art of naming, isn’t there?