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From Gontran To Adolf, The Influence Of Name Choice

Some believe names represent more than just a matter of taste, that they destine people to certain fates. But most everyone can agree that certain names are simply bad choices.

What's in a name?
What's in a name?
Marie-Pierre Genecand


GENEVA — They thought about "Agathe," but they chose "Romane" instead because it's more combative, more defiant. An empire for a little girl, that should be enough. We all know one or two Lucies, which is a luminous first name, nice in all seasons, and even more radiant in winter. Who's met a Gontran? Or a Gonzague?

First names. If you're like me, introducing acquaintances to your loved one, even people who have been longtime friends, can be hellish. You recognize and appreciate the person, but then you go blank. You just can't remember their name. I have a theory about this inexplicable handicap. It's not age, but instead something more Freudian. I think I forget first names because I don't like my own. It's too long, too bossy, and there are too many Rs. When I was little, I dreamt about being called Sonia. Or Lina, like my grandmother.

I swore that my first child's name would have at least three As, whether I had a daughter or a son. It seems like a good way to introduce a newborn to the world and to ensure an a cappella life. This is indeed how it's been. "My little one is like water, she's like flowing water. She runs like a stream that the other children chase," as the opening lyrics to French singer Guy Béart's song "L'Eau expand=1] vive" go. In more concrete terms, my oldest child studies socio-anthropology in a European capital that has just been shaken by a tragedy. I couldn't have hoped for a better name.

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Photo: Quinn Dombrowski

Now comes the question that every future parent thinks about with a mix of anxiety and excitement. Does a name shape a person? Does it have the power to influence the course of life? I think it does. And all the first-name dictionaries think so too. An Irène won't live the same life as a Lola. A Jean-Albert will simply have a different trajectory than a Matteo. Or, as Quebec singer Linda Lemay sings in "Alphonse," "an Alphonse won't launch into business/He will be fooled/Even if daddy was successful, Alphonse will start from scratch."

Of course, rational people will say that there can be coward Pierres and brave Pierres. Expressive Alexandres and discreet Alexandres. Joking Bernards and serious Bernards. I don't disagree with them. But there is one truth we can all agree on: There are forbidden names. The superb film What's in a Name? proved it brilliantly with "Adolf," which is indeed difficult to bear.

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Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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