Celebrate Your Name Day. It’s Like a Birthday, but Better.

Celebrate Your Name Day. It’s Like a Birthday, but Better.

My name day? I had never heard of such a thing. Nor did I think my name was something worth celebrating: My family had chosen “Linda” in part because it sounded incontrovertibly American to their Soviet ears, practically an idiom of assimilation unto itself. According to a 2018 study, it is the “trendiest” name in U.S. history, having experienced a sharp rise and precipitous fall in popularity amid the postwar baby boom. By naming me Linda, my parents hoped they were conferring an easy American life upon me, a life free of mispronunciations and mistakes. For them, such a life would be forever out of reach. (Not that they haven’t tried: My father’s name is Olaf, but when he orders takeout he presents himself as Mike.)

In Latvia and many other European nations, name days are like birthdays, but better. Whereas birthdays celebrate individuals, name days are collective holidays marked by national calendars, radio stations and news outlets, days when people are feted just for answering to particular appellations. In Finland, the University of Helsinki maintains a national almanac of name days for people, cats, dogs and horses. Though my name day varies from country to country, according to the Latvian calendar it falls on Aug. 21, a day it shares with “Janina.” On this day there are no candles to count, no years to tally. Instead, all the Lindas and Janinas receive flowers, chocolates and presents in honor of their belonging to a strange and ever-shifting collective defined not by race, religion, citizenship or age but by the simple fact of a shared name. There is no hiding your name day from public knowledge; it does not belong to you. By congratulating me on my name day, my grandmother had inducted me into this tradition and reminded me of my place in a long line of Lindas.

By Linda Kinstler, The New York Times

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