March 28, 2010

What's in a Name Day

We often celebrate people who discover things or invent things—and as often mention what those discoverers and inventors decide to name those things. Sometimes we mention names that change. For example, the country in Africa that is now called Ghana was once a colony called Gold Coast, and before that the land was part of the Akan Kingdoms, the Ashanti Empire, Fante states like the Ga and the Ewe, and the realm of the Akwamu and the Bono. We can talk about the meanings of names (such as the fact that Argentina means “Land of Silver”) and the different versions of names in different languages (for example, Italy, Venice, and Rome are all English versions of the Italian names for these places: Italia, Venezia, and Roma).

Today is the birthday of several important namers-of-places and coiners-of-terms, and it's the anniversary of a couple of important name changes as well. Let's see what we've got:

On this date in 1793, Henry R. Schoolcraft was born. This American explorer and ethnologist (a person who studies cultures) is most famous for his discovery of the source of the Mississippi River.

He had been along on an expedition in which the source was supposedly found in a lake that was named after the head of the ex
pedition (Cass Lake). When it turned out that was not, in fact, the source, Schoolcraft explored further and found the true source in another lake.

He named this lake in Northern Minnesota “Lake Itasca,” taking parts of two Latin words for the name: the letters “Itas” from veritas (true), and the letters “ca” from caput (head.) So basically, the name of the lake is “true source (or head).”

Notice he wasn't tempted to name the lake after himself: Lake Schoolcraft!

On this date in 1848, Wilhelm Kuhne was born. This German scientist studied human physiology: muscles, nerves, eyes, and the digestive system. He is famous for having coined the word enzyme.

Enzymes are very important in living things. They are proteins that speed up specific chemical reactions that a creature needs to stay alive. And when I say that enzymes speed reactions up, I really mean they speed things up: chemical reactions happen millions of times faster than would the same reactions without enzymes.

Kuhne took the word enzyme from the Greek word that means “to leaven.” (When we leaven bread dough, we put yeast into the dough,
and the yeast “ferments” and makes the bread dough rise. This, of course, is a chemical reaction.)

As Professor Sy Yentz points out, Kuhne's choice of enzyme was a great help to Scrabble players all over the English-speaking world!

On this date in 19
30, the name of the Turkish city Constantinople was changed to Istanbul.

Actually, like many ancient cities, this city has had many names. One very old name is Byzantium. With that name it became the capital city of an important empire, the Eastern Roman Empire; and it is because of the city's name that we often call that empire the Byzantine Empire.

The Roman emperor
Constantine the Great converted to Christianity and had his entire empire follow suit, and the city was renamed Constantinople. However, the Arabic world called the city Kostantiniyye (basically the same name but with an Arabic ending meaning “place of” replacing the Greek “-polis” ending). Sometimes Arab people called it simply “The City,” which in their langauge was Istanbul. When an Arabic empire (the Ottomans) conquered Constantinople in 1453, most people who lived there called the city Istanbul, but Kostantiniyye was still often used officially, and the rest of the world continued to call the city Constantinople.

Finally, when the Republic of Turkey was est
ablished in 1923, all the other names for the city became obsolete. The rest of the world would probably have kept dragging on, using the old name it knew and felt comfortable with, but on this date in 1930, Turkey's leaders informed the rest of the world that mail and packages addressed to Constantinople would no longer be delivered.

So the rest of the world got with the program and made the change!

On this date in 1963, the new owners of the professional football team the New York Titans changed the team's name to the New York Jets.

The Titans, for some reason, had never attracted crowds of spectators, so the new owners hoped that a name change would link the team in the public's mind with the popular baseball team, the New York Mets. I guess it worked, because soon the team had a popular new player, Joe Namath, lots of fans, and even a Superbowl victory!

Do you know the Nam
e Game?
Learn it here.

Imagine you had to name all the streets of a community.

Would you name them after people? Other places? Things?

Some towns have street names that are kind of boring but HELPFUL. Here's an example of street names that really help people find their way around: all the streets that run North-South have letter names (in alphabetical order), and all the streets that run East-West have number names (in numerical order).

One town I know has non-boring-but-still-helpful street names. All the streets are named in alphabetical order, but instead of boring lettered streets (A Street, B Street, C Street, etc.), this town uses flowe
r street names (something like Aster Avenue, Bluebonnet Boulevard, Carnation Close, and so forth).

Whatever you do, don't make your street
names hopelessly confusing. I once went into a small neighborhood that had streets that twisted and turned—and every single street was a multi-syllable girl's name that started with the letter “S.” Boy, was that place frustrating! I was turning from Samantha onto Sylvia, going past Sabrina and Sophia—and where the dickens was Stephanie? Trying to remember a route there was nearly impossible!

If I had the power
to name all the streets in a community, I would be tempted to use my power to honor my favorite authors, musicians, and scientists – but then I would arrange the names in ABC order, to make finding things easier!

Or, wait -- I might want to make all the names cool elfish names, as if my town was somewhere in Middle Earth. Hmmm...

What would you do?

Little kids love to write their names
, see their names, and use their names.
Here is a website with lots of name-oriented songs, poems, and games for the younger set.

Make your name into Graffiti!

This Flash program has lots of different graffiti fonts, colors, stripes, and so forth. Fun! (To get started, click the colorful word near the bottom of the screen (center panel).

Make a Name B
1.Fold an unlin
ed paper in half vertically. Unfold and position the paper horizontally. Write your name in cursive, very large, using the folded crease as the line on which you write.

2.Fold the paper in half again and position on a glass window so that the blank half is facing you but you can see your name through the paper. Trace along the lines so that you end up with a mirror image of your name.

3.Unfold the paper and turn it vertically. Your double-name looks a little bit like a strange bug, right?

Use colo
r and features (eyes, mouths, feet, antennae) to make it look even more like an insect.

1 comment:

  1. I've never been able to use 'enzyme' in scrabble!