what’s in a name? pt 4

I remember the first time someone heard my name and knew how to spell it. I was 10.

My family took a cross-country summer vacation to see as many US states as possible. We also spent half a day in Tijuana, Mexico. I think my mom still has bruises on her arm where my older sister hung on from fear, just like she did the first time we went to NYC.

Me, I was happy to be there. My most salient Tijuana memory is seeing a street vendor, an elderly man, and his cluttered table / workshop—small metal-cutting machine, a collection of files, boxes of chunky metal rings,  and a hand-made sign: “Your name on a ring.”

Not sure why I wanted one, and don’t recall all the details, but I do remember telling the man, Dina, and he said, D-I-N-A? And said, yes. Yes!

The man found a ring that fit me, carved & filed away the negative space around each letter until my name appeared on the ring. Way better than a pre-printed personalized mini license plate from a gift shop.

Years later…

I learned why Dina might have been so familiar to that man: the name Dina has etymological roots in Spanish/Latin, plus DINA is a manufacturer of trucks and buses (the Mexican equivalent of Mac trucks)—Diesel Nacional (DiNa), which later became Diesel International, but name changes can be difficult to make stick.

Like, for a very brief moment in the early 2000s, I had the nickname (the only one I can remember having) of Diesel. I think 3 people called me this for a few months, and then the nickname died.

In Dubai

When I meet people in here, after the usual game of Where Are You From?, we exchange names. I get the same response:

You know that’s an Arabic name?

I started asking, What’s it mean?

If there are many Arabic speakers in the group, they’ll speak in Arabic. Discuss. Look confused. Discuss. Return to me and say, it doesn’t mean anything, really.


I asked someone, got the answer nothing, and told her about a Syrian guy I met at the camel races who said, It means the sun and earth. It means everything and nothing. She said, Typical Syrian.

whats in a name camels at the start line

On the Internet…

Home of all answers & misanswers, says, Dina—Hebrew—means avenged, judged and vindicated.

From Dinah:

  • The name Dinah occurs only once in the Bible, as the only daughter of Israel’s arch-father Jacob (Genesis 30:21)
  • The name Dinah is the feminine form of Dan and both come from the verb דין (din), meaning to judge or plead or govern
  • The feminine noun מדונה (medina), meaning province. BDB Theological Dictionary submits that this word is an Aramaic word, but perhaps it was so readily incorporated into Hebrew because it expresses the smallest unit of governable area larger than a single city; i.e. a jurisdiction. Note that this word also exists in Arabic, where it also became applied as the name of the famous city.


What does Dina mean?

  • (Celtic) seaman, mariner; (Germanic) brave as a bear; (Hebrew) vindicated; (Latin) steadfast, constant
  • Dina is unusual as a baby name for girls. Its usage peaked modestly in 1969 with 0.089% of baby girls being given the name Dina. Its ranking then was #199. The baby name has since experienced a substantial fall in popularity, and is today of very light use.
  • Dina is also a variant of the name Murdag (Scottish).

Call me Murdag. Maybe? Call me maybe? Maybe?


what’s in a name? pt 3

Mini license plates that you hang on your bike seat, key chains, mugs, pencils, tote bags, bottle openers—any personalized item in a gift store—will have variations of my name: Dinah, Dianna, Dana…. but never my name. I’ll look, hoping. But no.

So, I get excited whenever I see my name. Anywhere. Even as part of a typo.

Thank you, IKEA!

whats in a name plant gardina

Which, of course I had to buy.

whats in a name gardina gardinia

It’s finally about to flower. I’m very excited. (Polar bear hat and camel bone in a box, if you’re wondering.)

Excited, like when I was walking around Alserkal Ave in Dubai (or Dubayy)’s Al Quoz area (home to art galleries; work spaces; warehouses; industrial plants; an antique museum that has few antiques and isn’t a museum; car repair & modification garages), saw my name on a discarded cardboard box, and took a picture. Woo hoo! That’s me: Performance without Sacrifice.

whats in a name dina


Update on Siri’s struggle with my name:
She has started spelling it right, but has stopped saying my name at all.
Half a win!

what’s in a name? pt 1

Imagine a multi-layered burst of bright red at the end of a stem of green. What is this?

Ceci n’est pas une rose.

C’est William. With a name like that, he had it easy. Will. Bill. Billy. Willy—someone must have. Will.I.Am—he thought of this first, no doubt.

If people see my name, they can’t say it. If they hear it, they can’t spell it. I’ve spent my life correcting them. In the same way James Dean’s Jim from Rebel without a Cause couldn’t let it go when someone called him chicken, I let these mispronunciations & misspellings get to me.

In my family, I was known by my relative labels: sister, daughter, or by generic terms of endearment: sweetheart, dear. The family as a unified entity with a single direction, one voice, was favored over being an individual. My DNA didn’t get the memo.

I want to be separate. I want to have an identity. I want people to get my name right.

A salesman once told me there’s no way, with that spelling, that’s how you say it. Dude, did you seen The 40-Year-Old Virgin? Not because I think you’d relate, but because of this exchange:

While we were in Paris a couple of weeks ago, we bought new iPhones. Went from 2009’s iPhone 4 to the new iPhone 6—(not the 6ridicuplus). This is my first experience with Siri.

A few weeks before we moved to Dubai, my computer died. I took Alfredo’s old one, which got connected to all my devices—iphones, ipods, etc, meaning in the digital world, I was Alfredo.

  • Siri: What can I help you with, Alfredo?
    Me: I’m not Alfredo.
    Siri: I’m sorry. I do not understand, I’m not Alfredo.
    Me: My name’s not Alfredo.
    Siri: I’m sorry. I do not understand, My name’s not Alfredo.
    [Google: Siri calls me by the wrong name]
    Me: Call me Dina. [Siri spells this as Dena. Click to change. I change.]
    Siri: Ok, I shall call you Tina. Is this correct?
    [Google: Siri difficult name to pronounce]
    Me: Siri, how do you pronounce Dina? [Siri spells this as Dena. Click to change. I change.]
    Siri: Which one? [Siri gives me a list of all my contacts named Dana.]
    Me: Call me Dina. [Siri spells this as Dena. Click to change. I change.]
    Siri: Ok, I shall call you Gina. Is this correct?
    Me: [redacted]
    Me: Siri, how do you pronounce Dina? [Siri spells this as Dena. Click to change. I change.]
    Siri: You have no contacts named Dinah.
    Me: Call me Dina. [Siri spells this as Dena. Click to change. I change.]
    Siri: Ok, I shall call you Dianna. Is this correct?
    Me: Dina.
    Siri: I’m sorry, I do not understand, Denna.
    Me: [redacted] [redacted]
    Me: Siri, how do you pronounce Dina? [Siri spells this as Dina.]
    Siri: Which one? [Siri gives contact info for a few Danas and for me. I click on my name.]
    Siri: Ok, how do you pronouce this name?
    Me: Dina.
    Siri: Select one. [Siri provides 3 sound files. I listen. Dina. Dana. Dina. I chose the first one.]
    Me: Siri, what is my name?
    Siri: Why are you asking me, Din-nah?

Can you hear me above the din?
Would you like some gin?
Is that made of tin?

  • Me: Siri, I give up.
    Siri: I do not understand, I give up.
    Me: Ok, Siri. What’s in a name?
    Siri: Here’s some information. Input interpretation: A name means nothing.
    Me: Thank you, Siri.
    Siri: You’re most certainly welcome.
close up to center of flower
This is a rose.