What’s in a name? A rose by any other would smell as sweet, right? Well, one of the tasks for the My Heritage badge requires a scout to learn about the meaning of her first, middle, and family name. In my case, it’s Jean Louise Synodinos.
I was named for my grandmothers–Jean on my father’s side, and Louise on my mother’s. Born in October 1960, however, I also find it worth noting that “Jean Louise” was the name given to the young heroine in To Kill a Mockingbird, published in July of that year. Remember the book but not that name? Well, you knew her better by her nickname: Scout.
Cool coincidence, huh?
Anyway, you’ll be bored to tears knowing that Jean is simply the feminine of John, and that they both represent “graciousness.” This would have been good information for me to have as a child. I might have chosen to cultivate finer manners instead of cultivating the vocabulary of a sailor at sea. I never met my father’s mother Jean; she died of cancer before my parents met.
Louise, of course, is the feminine of Louis, which represents “one who is famous in battle.” In this case, my namesake was not given the name to suit her. Grandmother Louise was incredibly skilled in avoiding battle of any kind. “La-di-da. I’ll let someone else worry about that.” Her stress-free approach to life, we believe, made her a happy and content woman until the time of her death. And because we aren’t entirely convinced she was forthright about the year of her birth, we suspect she’d made it to 100 before passing.
The juice, however, is in the last name: Synodinos. Say it like this: sin-uh-DEE-nus. Try it. It’s easy.
I’ve had a story about my last name on the bio page of my other website (scroll down a few paragraphs). It’s fairly long, but kind of funny, so I’ll recap; feel free to waste a few minutes with the entire narrative on the other site. In short:
- At age 6, I ask my father what our name means, and he provides me with two possibilities:
- “Member of the church council” from the Greek root word “synod”, or,
- “One who screams loudly while walking on a road.”
- Because I am 6, I believe him. And because I am 6, I like the second answer better.
- Flash forward to my early 20s. I am new to Los Angeles and, instead of looking for actual employment, I am auditioning to be a contestant on The Joker’s Wild game show. The interviewer asks me what my last name means, and I blurt out the answer about the loud person walking. They think I’ve just made a great joke and book me on the show.
- The day of taping, host Jack Berry asks me about my last name, but I’m so nervous and befuddled I can barely remember what my last name is. I lose the game in the first round to a McDonald’s manager, but win $25 worth of Sue Bee honey, and go look for a job.
More than a decade after that game show fiasco, our family is celebrating a holiday meal, we’re all yakking about that crazy name of ours, and my father is horrified to learn that I’ve been telling people all my life that our name can mean “one who screams loudly while walking on a road.”
Conversely, I am horrified to learn that it’s not true and shocked to discover my father had just been goofing around with an impressionable (and apparently loud), 6 year old so many years ago. With a life’s worth of certainty shredded like cabbage on the plate, I was left with only one possible interpretation–something about a sort of mundane church council membership.
Until… (and this part of the story has been left untold until now)…
A couple of years ago, I received an email from a gentleman in Greece, also named Synodinos. He had seen the story of my name on my other website, and he felt it important to tell me that I still had it all wrong. Synodinos, he said, simply meant that our ancestors had all come from the town of Synodi.
Synodi. Ever heard of that place? Yeah, me neither. But this gentleman who was kind enough to email added a few pieces of information:
- Synodi was the town where members of Constantinople’s church council resided.
- It was the place where Dan Brown-like schemes were hatched (wild, huh?).
- Synodinos is a much more common name than I’ve always thought.
- Everyone named Synodinos today probably had another last name, a family name, which was dropped along the way.
I Googled Synodi, as well as an alternate spelling Sinodi, in an effort to confirm those first two bullets. An amazing array of writings on the origins of the Greek Orthodox church emerged. Many were written in Greek, German and Italian (none of which I speak or read); English entries gave me no additional information.
If nothing else, this adventure points to the complexity of finding and understanding our place in history. Who knows what our ancestors really did? If we could trace the ancestry of a great man like my own father, what rogues and thieves would emerge? What philanthropists? What cobblers? What feminists? What generals? How was their DNA collected and dispersed over time to end up in him, and subsequently my sister and me?
And should it matter?
I’d say everyone should stop what they’re doing right now and search their last name on Google or Wikipedia, then read about the saints and sinners that bubble up.