October 13, 2008

The name behind the name

Five years ago, I was backing my bags for another trip to Isla Mujeres. I had held a Mexican corporation for around six months and was ready to make an offer on the house.
As I studied my passport and Mexican legal papers, I smiled. My given Christian name would be okay in Mexico.
You see, I was not born Zina. I was born Zinaida. I was named directly after my mother, and she after a teacher of her mother. And that is a whole 'nother story.
Zinaida is known in Eastern Europe as a baptismal name of the Greek Orthodox Church. It is pronouned Zina-eeda. But in second grade, the school yard taunts turned into "zina eat a big one." That, and the fact the the US was not ready to have female juniors in the Social Security and other systems, had my mom leading me by the hand to the bus into Canton, where we went to the Social Security office and changed me name to Zina.
Zinaida and similar names are derived from Zeus, the Greek god of lightening. It is a very popular name in Latino cultures, especially Mexican and Puerto Rican. I got a clue from my body shop in Cleveland. "Hey Donnie, doesn't the Enterprise agent have a name real close to this?" a shout to the owner.
Zenaida was Mexican American. Yes, it is the same name, different culture, she said. I am still puzzled how a Greek baptismal name became popular in Latin America, especially in the Maya world.
I figured that Mexicans would pronounce it the Russian way, kind of rhyming with Margarita. But it is Zin-eye-duh. And it seems every Maya family on the block has a Zenaida in the house. I, a gringa, have tocayas! None of them like the name either and go by nick names like Candy, Cindi and what-not.
My neighbors know how I feel. After a few explanations, "Mi nombre es Zinaida, pero no gusta Zinaida, llama me Zina," and that is how they go on to explain it amongst themselves.
Miggie, who owns Shanghai Chinese restaurant down the street has an aunt Zenaida and he doesn't have a clue about "eat a big one" and how got to me as a child. But he wants to call me something diminutive. He fumbled around a couple years until he came up it a moniker: Zinita!
He doesn't know just how close he is to the name I hated!
And how, as Paul Harvey would say, "The rest of the story."
In January of 2002, when Catholic priests were being indicted for pedophilia in the US, my mother kept saying, "There is nothing new in this. You need to know the story of your name."
I am named after a Pania Zinaida, a Polish master handcrafter and seamstress, who taught my grandmother intricate lace tablecloth making.
Pania Zinaida had been sent to private school, something that only rarely happened anywhere in the early 19800s and only happened in families with money. But her rich father was not her biologic father.
One day while her father was working on his ranch, parceled out to him by family that owned huge tracts of land, received a visit from a local Catholic priest, accompanied by a 17-year-old girl who was pregnant.This rancher was considered quite the catch. The priest presented his mistress to the rancher.
"If you take her as your wife, my family will give you half their land and you will become the largest land holder in the region." They married and the first of their four children, and the one sired by the priest, was named Zinaida.
Someday, when you run out of things to write and want a good story line, write the story of your name, my mom said as we watched the Bill Clinton impeachment proceedings with breaking news about pedophile priests. "There is nothing new in this world. It has all happened before," she said, adding. "Now you know the fantastic story of your name."

1 comment:

Islaholic Trixie said...

Wow!! My name is boring compared to that! I guess I don't even have a story behind my name, unless it's my nickname, Trixie.