Story of My Name

This post is inspired by Gail de Vos who teaches Storytelling at the University of Alberta. The assignment below is from Gail’s classes and Telling Tales: Storytelling in the Family.

Your First Real Life-story, the Story of Your Name

Describe your name in a story which will entertain your audience and you, and tell them and yourself about you. Ask and answer questions like these (not all questions need to be answered) to help you tell your name’s story.

What is your name? What does it mean? How did you get it and who gave it to you? If you were named after some one or some place or some thing, what is that person, place or thing’s story? Do you like your name? Why or why not? If not, what would you like to be named and why? What does your name mean to others? Who and why?

Plunge: The Story of My Name

© Shawn Urban

My name is Shawn Travis Urban, but I have not always been so.

I am adopted, so I have two names. My initial name, given to me by my birth mother, is David. It comes from the Hebrew Dod, which means “beloved”. This, and the fact that I am alive, and have lived an incredible life raised by a wonderful family, says a lot about my original mother.

 

David = Dod

 

My Mom and Dad named me Shawn Travis. They chose Shawn Travis because its cadence is appealing, particularly when combined with my family name, Urban.

 

cadence

 

The name Shawn has a long history behind it. My parents wanted Shawn to reflect my Canadian origin, so they chose its spelling carefully. S-H-A-W-N, as my name is spelled, is a North Americanized version of Irish S-E-A-N. S-E-A-N, in turn, is the Irish version of John, in turn an English version of Johannes, which is a Latin version of Ioannes. Ioannes is the Greek version of Yochanan, which is Hebrew for “Yahweh is gracious”. Given my adoption, I think this rather fitting.

 

Shawn = Yochanan

 

My middle name, Travis, is also interesting. Travis comes from Old English traverse, which means “to cross”. It was a name given to a toll collector. In medieval times when you wanted to cross one of the King’s bridges, and they all were the King’s bridges, you had to pay a toll. The title of the toll and the toll collector came to be travis, so occasionally you might hear the saying, “pay the travis”, which could mean “pay the crossing”, “pay the toll” or “pay the toll collector”.

 

Travis = cross,toll
Stefras' Bridge

 

Combined, Shawn Travis literally says, “Yahweh is gracious. Pay the toll.” I’m not so sure whether my parents or I get the short end of that derivation.

 

irony

 

My family name is Urban, which means “city” or “city dweller”. However, it started out as Urbanoski. My father’s side of the family is Galician (Polish, Ukrainian, Austrian or German, depending on who conquered whom in this part of the Ukraine). My great-great-grandfather was the mayor of a manor town, which unlike elected mayors today, was a position of nobility in my great-great-grandfather’s time. Urbanoski was changed to Urban in my father’s time by his father. So my father was born an Urbanoski and is now an Urban.

 

Urban = city dweller

 

And that is who I am, except that the story of my name would be incomplete without some mention of my initials. Through no intention on my parents’ part, my initials correspond to three consecutive letters in the English alphabet, S-T-U, and they form a name in themselves, Stu, short for Stuart, S-T-U-A-R-T, the French form for Old English Stewart, S-T-E-W-A-R-T, meaning “keeper of the estate”.

 

Stuart = Stewart

 

So I am “toll collector”, “city dweller”, “keeper of the estate”, “beloved” and . . .

 
. . . “Yahweh is gracious”.

This post is inspired by Gail de Vos who teaches Storytelling at the University of Alberta. The assignment above is from Gail’s classes and Telling Tales: Storytelling in the Family.

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7 thoughts on “Story of My Name

  1. Love this! I think I will have my students do something similar on the first day. It will be a nice ice breaker, and may help me remember names!

    • Hi Alee,

      What a great idea. I am always forgetting student names, probably because I see students a few times a month. I find personal stories from students definitely helps, as does meeting them one at a time.

      I am glad you enjoyed this post.

      Shawn

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