Ethiopia journal: Concerning names

Many of the businesses here bear the name Abyssinia. I am told that was the name of the land 400 years ago before it was changed to Ethiopia. Here, the city was called Finfinne before it was Addis Abbaba. In America, nothing has been around even close to that long. New York bears the name of York, from old England. But there was a thriving city in present day Addis centuries before the earliest Celts built a hut on the hill of York. Istanbul used to be Constantinople. Conquest sought to unname it and pull loose the threads that the namesake emperor wove. But those threads, however coarse, were weaved together with the Gospel of Christ and rendered undying. Christianity can no more be unnamed from the west or indeed the whole earth than the ocean be inverted and the mountains filled with water. We christen our new daughter Elizabeth, a beautiful and high name in the heritage of our history and language. But for short we will continue to call her a name contained phonetically inside the name of both the mother of John the Baptist and the golden age queen of Britania. Abi, for Abebech, the high desert flower that she is.

Later, I find I am listening to an odd laid-back foreign pop cover of Coldplay’s Yellow while sitting in a cafe called Red Bean. The waitress, named Efrata, makes me think of the Eufrates river. As if Eden used to be here in the low-lying lands of Axum, the cradle of civilization. Only the silliest of scientists would have come up with that phrase. A cradle needs rocking, implies a rocker, implies a mother, a father, and warm hand-woven blakets, in short, a God with hands, not a force of nature manifest in multiversic shades of warm goo. It turns out the waitress is named for the 2nd wife of Caleb, from 1st Chronicles. It means “fruitful” in Hebrew.

In the Addis airport I sat next to a French man the same age as me. He was taking his newly adopted 3.5 year-old son home to Lyon. The boy’s name was Abel (as in Abel, the son of Adam). They were going to change it to Jean-Abel. He was crossing his fingers that the boy would sleep on the plane. They seemed to be doing really well so far. If I go back in 2 months, I’ll be in his shoes.

While my wife learned several Amharic phrases, I tried to figure out the names of all the staff at the guest house:

Genet – heaven
Asnaku – Better than all?
Zeyneba – Name from the Koran
Burtkan (“Burtikwan”) – Orange
Desta (“Deseta”) – happy
Mulugta (“Mulugeta”) – Fullness of God
Solomon – After the old King of Israel
Eyob – Transliteration of Job, from scripture
Abebech – flower seedling, same as our daughter