A rose by any other name

In English it is somewhat hypothetical to postulate about the naming of roses. They are roses. That’s the name they’ve been given. We talk about someone’s given name and it is indeed their unchanging identity unless they choose to shorten or misspell it, or allow others to do so. It seems teenage girl particularly enjoy experimenting with alternate spellings; perhaps in search of a unique identity, perhaps just to give some of the English language’s more underused letters a run out! I am Matt, and have been for years, although my mother will argue that ‘Matthew is such a nice name’. It is: it’s just not one I readily associate with myself. Here in Bosnia, however, names change not just on the whim of the individual but through the nature of the language. I’m still coming terms with this linguistic intrusion into what I’ve always perceived as the hallowed ground of nomenclature.

I read a Bosnian TV magazine with film stars name’s transliterated. Recognise Vinz Von anyone? I decided my name would probably be spelt Mat Helja. (I was going to type “that’s short and sweet” but it seemed slightly too self-descriptive!) But here’s the thing: name’s change here. If someone was going to attract my attention they’d shout ‘Mate’ – and not in an English ‘oi mate!’ kind of way. At the risk of misinforming you, I think I’m correct to say I could also end up as Matu, Matom and Mata depending on the context. The same happens to brand names. I imagine there’s more than one foreign marketing department that’s struggled to accommodate that. There is a great logic to it, and the language loses some little joining words and apostrophe ‘s’ as a result. Getting to grips with a, mostly, logical language does make you wonder how English ever got so popular. While I remain a big fan of its flexibility and durability I have a fresh respect of those who take up the challenge to learn it and all its foibles.


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