Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Start of a story

When my son turned 13, I discovered I didn't know the first thing about him. I discovered his name was not what I thought it meant.

It had seemed so obvious when he was born that I hadn't bothered to look it up. "Luke" = "light," from Latin lucere "to shine," a name for a boy who came blazing into the world and lighted my life.

But recently, while looking up something unrelated, I saw in Klein's Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary that my son's name is utterly unrelated to "light." It's Greek, not Roman, and derived from some obscure place-name, a rugged coastal district that was named, the etymologists think, for a local cult of Apollo worshiped as a wolf (Greek lycos).

Thirteen years ago, before my son had hair on his upper lip, before Sept. 11, before the Internet, before the divorce, it had been a compromise name between secular me and my Methodist-leaning wife, who wanted "something from the Bible."

[Actually, because his due date was Dec. 7, I wanted to call the child "Pearl." "Pearl Harper. Get it?" I told Laura DeAngelo, from the office. I had not told my wife this. "What if it's a boy?" she asked. "Burle!"]