Tuesday, October 9, 2007

What's In A Name?

One only has to view the birth announcements in the Arctic Sounder (see related links) to discover that naming a child is taken pretty seriously around here. On the North Slope, children are often endowed with multiple names, as many as four or five. It is common practice to name a new baby after a dear or departed relative (or three). In that way, the memory of the loved one is honored throughout the lifetime of the namesake. Children will, without provocation, enthusiastically recite the long list of relatives for whom they were named which, I must admit, can be a fairly impressive feat.

Not long after I moved to Atqasuk, people began to ask me what my Eskimo name would be. My Eskimo name? The question caught me slightly by surprise. I hadn't considered the possibility of choosing a Native name, but after thinking about it, I kind of liked the idea. From that point on, I began paying closer attention to the proper names and common words that were spoken each day within my hearing. I'd repeat one every now and then, trying it on for size. Like shoes, an ill-fitting word can be a little painful to break in.

Inupiaq is an interesting language, but there's nothing easy about it. There are only three vowels (a, u, and i). That seems simple enough. Unfortunately, there are several unusual consonants whose pronunciations wreak havoc with my awkward, mostly English-speaking tongue. They bounce around in my mouth like a size 7 foot in a size 13 shoe! There are four variations of the letter "l" as well as two types of "g" (remember, the one with the dot?). There are three types of "n" and one of those, get this, has a tail! On top of all that, each of the vowels can be doubled (as in, uunaalik) making for some unexpected syllables, to say the least. After a good bit of trying on, my interest in finding a name that I could actually pronounce began to wane.

Then something unexpected happened. The elders of the village have a standing invitation to eat lunch with the students in our school. One day, an elder that I knew fairly well mentioned to me that my name, Kimberlee, reminded him of the Inupiaq word, kimaliuraq. He explained that a kimaliuraq was a little knife, an ulu, smaller than regular ulus. It was designed to fit a woman's hand more comfortably and to be more precise, an important trait for working with skins. From that day on, without hesitation, that was the name he called me...Kimaliuraq.

I don't think the elder had considered the implications of the name he'd given me. I'm sure the sound of my English name simply connected with his native tongue, creating a natural association. But, regardless of how it came about, I have grown to appreciate that association. To be connected with a tool that is sharp and strong, useful and versatile, fitting just right in the palm of a skillful hand. There's just something inspiring about that. I think it's a name that I'd like to live up to. After all my shopping and trying on, my Eskimo name just sort of landed in my lap. Thankfully, though, I couldn't have asked for a more excellent fit.

The small ulu at the top is the kimaliuraq (about 2 1/2 x 4 inches). The one on the bottom is the average size for an ulu (about 5 x 7 inches). These ulus were all made by Natives of the North Slope. The Ulu Factory in Anchorage commercially manufactures a wide variety of ulus that can be ordered/shipped (see related links).

The handle of this kimaliuraq is made of caribou antler.

Meet Mr. Nayukok, another elder in the village. He made the kimaliuraq as well as the larger ulu in these photos. Here you see him holding a decorative ulu (not for use) crafted from whale baleen. The handle is walrus ivory. Notice his mukluks (boots). They are hand-made predominantly of seal skin. They are really very impressive in person.
Elder Nayukok

Another one of Mr. Nayukok's ulus. This one has a walrus ivory handle as well.
Walrus Ivory Handle

This ulu was made by my friend Gail's brother, Leonard Felder, who lives in Barrow. I like the way he mounts the handles on a post. This handle is made from whale bone. He puts a thick layer of sealant on the bone which is good because whale bone smells a lot like cod liver oil...very fishy.
Whale Bone Handle2


Anonymous said...

Fascinating! I hope Ami can be there long enough to earn the privelege of native name.

-Julie Harris

Kimberlee said...

Hi, Julie. I have no doubt that Ami will have an Eskimo name before long! I am so glad that you and your family are finding the blog helpful and/or interesting. Maybe one day you'll come to Atqasuk for a visit? Thanks for commenting! :)

Anonymous said...

While I would love to see Ami (and Atqasuk!) while she's there, I think the cost is prohibitive. I'll have to enjoy it from afar. I believe Ami has been given a Cherokee name from our mom; I know I have, but not sure if Ami knows hers.... I wonder if knowing Ami's Cherokee heritage would be helpful in connecting to the Inupiak people?

Kimberlee said...

Well, I understand about the cost being prohibitive, but don't give up on the idea of visiting altogether. You never know when a great ticket deal might pop up! Ami has never mentioned the Cherokee aspect of her background. Of course, we haven't had much time for in-depth conversing yet! Whether that heritage might create a connection with the Inupiat people...that's an interesting thought. I'm really not sure. It's definitely something she could be open to. :)

Johnny said...

I am sure that my pronunciation of your "Eskimo" name in no way sounds like the Inupiaq pronunciation...Guess I will just keep on calling you Kim which in my personal language means FRIEND :)

Kimberlee said...

Isn't that funny? Apparently, Kim and Johnny mean the same thing! :)
No, wait, now that I think of it...I'm pretty sure Johnny translates as "really WONDERFUL friend!" I miss ya!

Oh, and by the way, here's a (rough) pronunciation aid, although, with all your years as a first grade teacher...I'll bet you had it on your own! :)


Steve said...

Hey. I like your Duck-o-meter. Who needs Super Doppler?

Karen said...

I love this story. I'm sure you feel quite special to be given an eskimo name. I would.

Kimberlee said...

Yeah, Steve, it's cutting-edge technology! I thoroughly expect to receive a call from NOAA or the National Weather Service any day now. You just never know where a thing like this will end up! :)

Kimberlee said...

Hi, Karen! Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. The truth is, anyone can have an Eskimo name. The Inupiat people seem quite happy with the idea of sharing their culture. What really WAS an honor, in my mind, was that my name was chosen by an elder. I think there is something powerful about having a name bestowed upon you rather than choosing it for yourself. Do you know what I mean?

Anonymous said...

My son, Derek, found your blog and sent me the link. Our family lived in Attqasuk from 1983 - 1989 (and Barrow from 1992-1995). Please tell Johnny and everyone in Atqasuk "hello" from the Shepard family. It is a wonderful place to live and learn! Hopefully the boys and I will be able to visit again some day!
Linda Shepard

Kimberlee said...

Hi, Linda! Nice to meet you! I have heard of you and your family and I've seen photos from that time as well. I'm sure in some ways a lot has changed since you were here. Then, there is no doubt that MUCH has stayed exactly the same. I mentioned to Mel that I heard from you and he said to tell you that, although Gail didn't become a teacher, their oldest daughter is graduating in education next year! That's exciting! Where are you living now? Where are your boys? How in the world did your son find my blog???? :) Thanks for taking the time to say hello! Please be in touch anytime.

Anonymous said...

Good to hear back from you - I have been busy and neglected to check your site! I am living in Moscow, ID (and working at the UI in records management). My son, Derek is attending Harvard for his masters degree. He keeps in touch with a lot of the kids in Barrow (they went to middle school there)and may have found your blog that way - I am not sure (he is more internet savy than I!). His twin, Bret is getting his masters at St. Mary's college in Moraga, CA. Are Mel and Gail living in Atqasuk now? Haven't seen them since our Anchorage days and their kids were VERY young then! Yes, I am sure much has changed as well as stayed the same there (it has here too, I was born and raised in this area and it is very small town too).

Bryce said...

What an interesting blog and especially fascinating post!

If you're interested, I found this great website in the Iñupiak language that I think you might enjoy exploring: Iñupiak wiki browser

Kimberlee said...

Hey, thanks Bryce! I'll definitely check out that link. I've never seen anything like it before. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, How is 'qannik' pronounced? Is it Ka-Nick or Qwa-nick or something else?
Dee from Atlanta, GA