Your RDA of Irony

What’s in a Name?

Do you know the meaning of your name? It could refer to your mother’s favorite actor at the time of your birth, or the prevailing political blocs in your family (maternal vs. paternal factions are usually the most vicious). However, I am intrigued by the actual etymology of a name. What does it mean and where did it originate?

The name Eugene is Greek and means “well-born”. It originated in the late classical period, when a new theology stimulated suitably virtuous names for baptisms. The old pagans would never have been so sanctimonious as to call themselves Justin, Boniface, Placidia or Eugenius. (And certainly not Theodosius; until the fourth century, the name would have had to specify which theos?)

In its earliest form, Eugene was the Greek Eygenios. The Romans were always plagiarizing the Hellenes, so the name became Eugenius along the Tiber. The Roman missionaries conveyed Eugenius to the British isles, where it evolved into the Welsh Owen, the Scottish Ewan and the Irish Euan. (The Angle-Saxons apparently rejected Aeugenebert.)

The Byzantine missionaries introduced the name to Russia, where it became very popular: Yevgeny. In fact, it was through a Russian ancestor that I acquired my name.

I am Eugene because of a pretentious, social-climbing grandmother. She was the type who would write the Tsar a thank-you note for a pogrom. Her real name was Shifra but the affectatious dragon thought that her Yiddish moniker was beneath her. She assumed the more elegant Russian name of Yevgenia. “Yevgenia” died before I was born, and left me the name Eugene. From what I have heard, it may be the only thing that she ever did for anyone.

  1. Yevgenia says:

    Ironically enough, your wrote this post on my birthday.

    I have always been proud of my name. It was popular for a reason and judging by the tone of your writing (not just from this entry to your blog but also by your chosen profession and other postings on your site), the arrogance implicit in the name is not a misnomer.

    Shifra’s intentions may have been more pure than you ascribe to her. In those times many Jews hid their heritage and even converted to escape persecution. Though, in secrecy still maintained their true identity.

    Her social climbing ambitions may well have been her way of protecting her family and hoping that it would save them if the gentiles felt she had as much disdain for her own as they did.

    To that end, you are here and don’t write if your family’s home went up in flames. You also do make much mention of lack of privilege.

    Judge not that which you may not fully understand. One last thing: You have just as much ability to change your name as she did.

    As you say, it is a popular name and one less won’t do the world any harm.

  2. Hello, Yevgenia.

    You evidently think that you know my grandmother better than my family does. I will just disregard my father, aunt and cousins, and take your word on the subject.

    For future reference, I am the only one on this website permitted to be self-righteous, and no one here is allowed to humorless. In fact, if you were any more dour, I would suggest that you change your name to Calvinia or Knoxette.

    Goodbye Yevgenia

  3. Bob Kincaid says:


    Smile. Laugh. Life is good. Even among the Hasidim.

  4. Magna says:

    a Actually it’s not what’s in a name. It should read “who were you named after”

    My Grandfather named me after his younger brother who went insane as was put into an asylum.

    Maybe he knows something….

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