What’s in a Name? Be My Valentine

Valentine’s Day – another commercialized holiday. That’s how I’ve seen it. But there’s more to it than that. Remembering the name of my German aunt’s father – Valentin – and his Catholic “Namenstag,” or name day, reminded me that its roots run deeper.


Valentine originally appeared on the calendar when Pope Gelasius I, in AD 469, wanted to eternalize the memory of the martyr Valentine during Roman times. Valentine had continued marrying couples, even though the Roman emperor, Claudius, had forbidden it because he believed it was keeping men from entering the military.

The giving of flowers and notes may be associated with Valentine because of the weddings he performed and an alleged note he left the jailer’s daughter, signed: “Your Valentine.” She had befriended him when he was in jail.

Valentine’s Day later served as the day to bless marriages.

Valentine’s Day in the English-speaking world was first alluded to by Chaucer in his poem: The Parliament of Fowls. And the giving of notes for Valentine’s Day became widespread during the Victorian era. Here, some examples:


English settlers then brought their tradition with them to the United States.

So what’s in a name, you say? There’s a story.












The Secret Life of Words: Phonological Discord

img_0166If you live in Chicago, you know what a “pączki” is — the jelly-filled donut celebrated every year on Fat Tuesday. With a large Polish population, the pączki has become popularized throughout Chicagoland: available across supermarkets, shared with family, brought into the office. But how does “pączki” (Listenbecome “punchki”? (Yes! that’s how it’s commonly pronounced.) Year after year, as a “language person,” always categorizing origins, tracing meaning, I couldn’t enjoy the donut without getting over this roadblock. It didn’t quite add up.

My initial theory was that there was some cross-pollination with the Russian “ponchiki” (Listen), which comes close — transliteration possibly?

After some research, it turns out the little accent on the “ą” (often omitted in English) makes all the difference. This guy explains it quite well:

So as it seems, the quasi-transliteration into English as “paczki” is to blame. I feel much better now (and a little more schooled in Polish phonology 🙂 ).


For more history on the “pączki,” see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pączki.





Yesterday at work, I went to lunch and, to my surprise, there was a priest standing in the crowded hallway, long, flowing white habit and all, applying ashes to anyone interested passing by. It caught me off guard. In the split second that I passed by, I was enamored. It was striking — people in business suits, coming out of the room, unashamedly, with the mark — the mark of the cross applied to their foreheads, and continuing with their day. I was touched to tears at the sight. It reminded me of God becoming flesh, so the priest, a representative of God, came into our workplace. Emmanuel. It was a meeting of inner world and outer world. #sacredmeetsmarketplace