What’s in a Name?
January 3, 2011 by eclecticwoman
I know, it isn’t original. Shakespeare said it a long time ago, in a lovely little play called Romeo and Juliet. In fact, the actual quote, for those of you who aren’t up on your Shakespeare, is
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
I am not musing today on the names of persons, as Juliet did. I am musing on the names we have chosen to call things. Specifically today, because I am headed to my uncle’s wake this afternoon, I was thinking about the names we call the places where we go to show respect to the dead and their survivors.
The place I will be going to is called a mortuary, as in Smith’s Mortuary. That term is rather uncommon in this area, actually. Around here, one is more likely to go to a wake at a funeral home or funeral parlor. I suspect mortuary was more common in an earlier era when people were frank about death. Now, in our softer, gentler world we tend to pussyfoot around the concept of death.
So now, instead of going to a mortuary we go to a funeral home/parlor. How cozy!
I took this musing a bit further and went to Dictionary.com to investigate. Sure enough, I found that the word mortuary, which is defined as “funeral home”, has its origins in the 14th and 15th centuries, the late Middle Ages.
1350–1400; ME mortuarie < ML mortuārium, n. use of neut. of L mortuārius of the dead, equiv. to mortu ( us ) dead + -ārius –
When I looked up the term used to define mortuary, that is funeral home, I found a better definition and the origin of the word, which is actually from the 20th century.
an establishment where the dead are prepared for burial or cremation, where the body may be viewed, and where funeral services are sometimes held.
I just love to find out I’m not out in left field somewhere when I start to muse.
I don’t have the time today to do more research to see if I’m on the right track regarding the reasons we decided to use the term funeral home rather than mortuary. It could be that, since wakes were often in the dead person’s home at one time, when the business of preparing the dead for burial began to flourish as an “industry”, it was done in a house used for that business. Hence, funeral house, funeral home. I may do more research another day when I have more time.
Personally, I think the origin of words and how we came to use the ones we do is very interesting. I am saddened by the fact that many people don’t even know the proper words, let alone what they mean and how they came to be. Vocabulary is another part of American education which has sadly become neglected.
For those who have become accustomed to my writing centering on the conditions on Pine Ridge Reservation, do not despair. I will write on that again, too often probably. But I began this blog to write about what was on my mind – hence the eclectic focus of the name. I realized that I have been, for better or worse, writing about the same thing a lot. I need to stretch my mind now and again, so for a while there may be more posts about things other than rez life. But rest assured that I continue to work with folks on the rez and you will hear it if I hear a story that captures my heart!
Now, off to the mortuary.