What’s in a Name?

I’ve been working on a chapter of Maya Threads: A Woven History of Chiapas that delves into some deep history. The stories in the chapter are based on exquisitely detailed images carved in stone at Yaxchilan in eastern Chiapas some 1300 years ago. Yach lintel 24 detailRelevant to the book, the carvings illustrate the textiles being worn at that time in fine detail. You can actually discern the brocaded motifs and even the techniques used to create them in some cases. And you can relate these to the motifs and techniques still being used today. It’s a fascinating study, and author Chip Morris is generous with startling insights and observations. But I keep getting sidetracked in a way I am not proud of. These early Maya dignitaries have names that make me snort. As if I were back in junior high. Lady Xoc, okay. Shield Jaguar, okay. Lady Evening Star, okay. But Jaguar Penis? Lady Great Skull Zero? Lady 6 Jaguar of Itz Witz? What were they thinking? Of course, we don’t know exactly what they were thinking, but we can surmise that these names reflect personal attributes and history and political connections and aspirations. We can be sure that their naming conventions don’t relate in any way to the manner in which we choose names for our babies, sight unseen, today. They are of a piece, though, with the rituals of the day. In the carved lintel shown here, for instance,Lady Xoc is performing a self-sacrifice that consists of running a rope through her own tongue. For a comprehensive discussion of why, you’ll have to read the book, due out this fall. Meanwhile, you can just shudder and focus on the exquisite details in her robe (which is rife with numerological symbolism, too). And ponder what your name might be, if you were of the Maya nobility. —Linda Ligon

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