Our names. They’re the initial, surface-level part of our identities. They’re what we call ourselves, others call us, and they help to define who we are. Some names may be family-old tradition, passed on from generation to generation over time. Others may have been chosen for their meaning in the Big Book of Baby Names. Others because they started with a certain letter, or sounded cool. Regardless, we all have a unique story behind the name we’re bestowed at birth.
My name is Rowena. It’s pretty uncommon (I’ve only ever met one other individual in person with the same name as me). Naturally, being so unique, I’m constantly getting asked where it came from or why my parents chose it. Does it run in the family? Is it from my country of origin? Is it just for fun? From a Baby Book?
So here’s the story behind my name—why my parents chose it, and what the internet (and baby books) tell me it means. As it turns out, its history is quite interesting, especially when Urban Dictionary is consulted, so enjoy my tale: of a name that spans from phonetically curious to historically significant, with some JK Rowling fiction and natural flora thrown in!
First: The Stats:
Pronunciation: Row-eee-nah (as in Row, Row, Row, Your Boat + “eee! A spider!” + “nah, another time”). I cannot tell you how many substitute teachers have gotten that wrong…
Number of Letters: 6
According to historical accounts, the name is actually German in origin, but a “Latinized version” from the two roots “hrod,” or “fame,” and “wunn,” or “joy and bliss.” The first Rowena ever recorded was the daughter of a Saxon King named Hengist, making me a princess at heart. What really made the name known to the world, however, was in the 1819 novel “Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott, where Rowena was the main protagonist Ivanhoe’s love interest.
So far, not a terribly shabby start, I must say. Who can complain when they were named after a 7th Century Anglo-Saxon princess?
Believe it or not, I’m also a tree! The English version of Rowena traces back to mean “little redhead,” and is based off of the Rowena little red berry tree. That clearly explains why many people call me a red-head, especially in the summer when my red highlights come out from the excess vitamin-D exposure.
Now, you just read the historical account. What about now? In modern day, Rowena is a name found in most baby books, but most interestingly, it can be found on the ever-entertaining Urban Dictionary, an online dictionary where individuals post their own definitions to modern “slang” terms, and, yes, names. Here’s what Urban Dictionary tells me I am:
“A stunningly beautiful woman who is intelligent, competent and who, without intent, intimidates the hell out of most people. She is confident, has high standards but keeps her expectations reasonable. She chooses her path in life, turns obstacles into challenges and then meets the challenges head on. A Rowena has a phenomonal grasp of whatever language by which she communicates and uses words to achieve her goals. Yet, a Rowena is empathetic and never wants someone to feel diminished in any way after an interaction with her.”
The scary thing is that this is so very accurate. Creepily accurate. Hauntingly accurate.
Go ahead and look up your own name! Do you agree with what the internet says it means? I must admit, while not a horoscope-lover or superstitious girl, it does amaze me how well this seems to describe my personality—the good, the bad, the vermilion, and the violet.
Who else am I? Well, how could you meet me and not think of the wizard Rowena Ravenclaw, from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter book series. My motto according to this account: “Wit beyond measure is life’s greatest treasure.”
I’m a Scottish witch, and one of the four founders of Hogwart’s School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. I was “beautiful and slightly intimidating,” but honored for my intelligence and creativity. Known for my capabilities with magical architecture, I designed the ever-shifting floor plan of the Hogwart’s school, and instilled the same intelligence and creativity in my students and in the members of my Hogwarts House, the Ravenclaws.
Given this fictional character’s impressive biography, naturally, when I was younger, I scarfed up the Harry Potter books, admiring and feeling proud that my name appeared every so often in them as such a major character to the school everyone I knew was reading about and wished existed in real life. Today, still, long after the books have been published, people who I first meet often ask me if I know about my presence in the series, or immediately relate my name to the famous founder’s, saying, “Oh, like Rowena Ravenclaw!” I guess you could say I’m a household name…practically world-famous. Not to mention that I do magic, so you better watch out!
While these tales and descriptions, however, are widespread for my name across history, literature, and even ecology, the story behind my name that I love the most is the most mundane and true one: it’s very simply the story behind how my parents came to choose it, because when it comes down to it, that is the history of what it means to be the unique Rowena that I identify as today.
My parents did not pick my name because it has a fantastic meaning, or because they loved little red berry trees. They did not pick my name because they are from England and wanted to maintain a historic, family, meaning. No. They picked it, actually, because of their personalities and self-interest. At the time, they were both reading the book “Ivanhoe,” and were familiar with the “fair, blissful” princess Rowena as Ivanhoe’s lover. My due date and the time they read the book lined up nicely, and when I finally arrived, they chose to name me after the character that they both loved and whose name was unique, rare, and classic. For my parents, who needed a baby book when you had a classic piece of European literature to base your child’s name off of instead?
For me, the true significance and importance in this lies in the fact that I was chosen to be Rowena for academic, pure personal interest, and nontraditional reasons. Instead of a more common name at the time, my parents chose one that was rare and hard to find, and I think that defines us both as a family and me personally. We are a non-traditional, unique family of book-lovers with a passion for the quirky. We don’t follow “rules” set down by grandparents looking to carry on a prestigious family name or a historical legacy. No. As a family, we approach life from the perspective that each person is the start of their own history, and can pave their own way in this world to create meaning in their lives. Yet as a family we value uniqueness and creativity, and intense scholarship (slight nerdiness, even). It only seems appropriate, then, that a classic book-lover would appreciate my name for its connection to a Classic Novel, and that I stand out from the common “Top 10 names of 1997” crowd.
I, myself, have grown into the name, almost as if simply bearing it has shaped me personally. I pride myself in being unique, different, and a little bit hard to pronounce. I, too, am an avid scholar and book-lover. I’m different, like the “different,” impulsive way my parents chose to name me. I am truly my own person.
There’s a story behind each and every one of our names, and whether it’s as simple as mine in that my parents simply liked the sound and look of my name, or if it’s as complicated as a family legacy carried on for centuries throughout generations. Regardless, each of our names and stories help to shape who we are, and I encourage you to embrace them. Grow into your potential, and make your name your identity.
Here’s to being a Rowena, to being unique, to being a princess, a tree, a witch, and an 18 year old girl in 2015.