A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What's in a Name?

A nurse I hadn't seen before was hanging my IV bag the other day when I noticed her name tag.

"Is your name Arsenic?"

"Ar-say-nich," she said softly, a little wearily, as if answering the question was a burden she had borne for a long time. She was Croatian, she said, and the "c" was pronounced "ch."

Even so, it's an unsettling name for a nurse. You couldn't get away with a Nurse Arsenic in fiction. It would be like calling a surgeon Jack Ripper.

The word "arsenic," I learn from Wikipedia, is from the Greek, meaning "masculine" or "potent," which is how, I suspect, it became a Croatian surname. The Greeks got the word from the Persian, where it meant "yellow orpiment" -- a pigment. (Artists used to get arsenic poisoning from their paints.)

I suspect that Miss Arsenic, if she stays in the United States, will change her name, just as countless Vietnamese named Phuc have decided to do.

I don't mention all of this to make fun. No doubt there's a language somewhere in which "Matthews" means "foreskin" or monkey dung."