“Now you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”
Traveling means meeting new lands, new cultures, new people.
I’m introducing myself frequently these days and I wonder what we get out of this ritual. There’s a handshake, an exchange of names, the storage of first impressions, and now we are, supposedly, no longer strangers. Our relationship has become personal. But what do we learn from hearing a name?
An introduction is often followed by more questions. When traveling, the first question is likely “Where are you from?” and its sibling questions “Where are you going” and “How long are you staying?” are never far behind. We learn about others by probing and listening and observing. We learn by spending time with one another.
Except for a clue to a person’s origin, a name alone doesn’t tell us much. Unless we get to hear the stories behind the name. So let me introduce myself with two of mine.
I owe my first name to my mother, who wanted international names for her two children. She’s embarrassed by too much Dutchness and holds the English and the French in high esteem. This embarrassment is not unique to her. Plenty of Dutch people are proud of our well-organized land, but also perceive our small country as provincial and insignificant. Perhaps that’s why so many of us spread our wings and cross the Dutch borders frequently. I’d like to think that my name has predestined me to write in English and live in Paris and travel the world. Nomen est omen.
My last name is my father’s name, not my husband’s. The Netherlands is known for its polders, areas of reclaimed land that lie below sea level and have been pumped dry. My name is therefore very Dutch and yet it’s also uncommon. My grandmother believes that all people with the name “Polders” are related to one another, and she may be right. Ironically, my father was the opposite of his name. He was a sailor and loved the water. The moment he tried to escape the reclaimed lands of his youth, he died. His yacht in the south of France, with which he meant to explore the Mediterranean after his retirement, remained stuck in the harbor.
I think my father would have liked this new phase in my life. Would have liked that I’m not postponing my wish to roam and am going wherever I want while I’m still healthy and relatively young. In my waking dreams, I sail with him each summer.
Photo (not mine): My father’s dream boat was a Hallberg Rassy. In whatever harbor we docked, we sought them out and admired their elegance.