T.S. Elliot wrote a collection of poems on cats. One of the poems is called “The Naming of Cats” and it starts like this:

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,

It isn’t just one of your holiday games; 

You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter 

When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

Luckily I am not a cat and only have one name. However there are more than three Basils in my family. I am one of six first cousins named Basil after my maternal grandfather, the late Basil Moutsatsos, who had come to South Africa from Greece. His legacy was one of love and generosity. He also loved to watch his children (he had five daughters and four boys) perform Greek dancing.

So Basil is from the Greek word meaning “Kingly”. In Greek my formal name is Βασίλειος (Vasileios). The shortened version is Vasili. When I was at university I liked Vasili. Many years later a Rumanian colleague would call me Vasili. He would also call on every 1st of January to wish me for my name day. 

In Greece the villagers who had been to the United States called all the Vasilis “Bill”. So I became Bill, Billy or Billaco in Greece. Bill came from their arrival at Staten Island in New York City. The immigration officers spoke no Greek, so they asked with which letter of the alphabet the name of the immigrant started. Vasileios starts with a “B” in Greek. So they were all called Bill. 

The seven cousins needed to be distinguished from each other. So we had Big Basil (or Sili) and Little Basil, who was the youngest Basil until two younger ones came along: JB and Sil. In the middle was me and cousin Basil, son of my Uncle Basil. I had a few nicknames besides the Bill derivatives: Budgie, Charlie and maybe a few others I cannot remember.

Oh , and my cousin Big Basil married Athena whose brother Basil shared my birthday, along with JB.

Names are important. Sometimes they make who we are. A name can mean recognition and connection.

When we were in the second wave from December 2020 to February 2021 at Netcare Kingsway Hospital, the hospital was all Covid except for one small ward. We all wore full PPE including visors all the time. Everyone looked the same in gowns and visors. Everyone was tired.

“Hey you” was not a polite way to address nurses when at work, and patients had no idea which angel was caring for them. Remember, as a doctor during the Covid wave I was working with teams I had not worked with before as an orthopaedic surgeon.

I decided that we should label everyone’s visor with their name and position in the hospital. So even the head of the gastroenterology unit in theatre got her label: Sister X, Theatre Gastroenterology Sister. She ended up heading up the Rest in Peace Team, so her patients did not see the name on the visor.

My receptionist used my label machine and five cartridges of labels supplied by the hospital to make labels for the whole hospital nursing and administration staff and the doctors. Each cartridges has a ribbon that is twelve meters long, so she printed sixty metres of labels.

Covid-19 has presented like a cricket game with the statistics. All sorts of useful numbers have been extracted and then equally so, misinterpreted and used as a foundation for some outlandish conspiracy theory.

We are now preparing for the third wave at our hospital. Many of the staff have new visors in preparation for the battle. Most have been vaccinated. My labelling machine is doing the rounds as people print their name to stick on their visor. 

What the label does not say is that these nurses are angels. They are the ones sacrificing themselves and their families as part of their calling to care for the sick. The sick are arriving again at our hospital with Covid pneumonia, grey skinned with wide-eyed white eyes searching for oxygen and help.

Thanks to our nurses they will receive more than just help. They will be cared for and connected to their families by these superheroes with names we should remember.

Grass cutting visors from the local hardware store have become the preferred from of protection globally.

10 thoughts on “The Naming of People

  1. Dear (distant) cousin Basil,
    Thanks for the stories. I agree with you about nurses being angels. My maternal aunt Angeline was a nurse whose influence caused me to eventually become the chief of executive of hospitals in the USA. (I have been retired for 20 years and now live in Stockholm). Aunt Angie’s bio is here: https://wp.me/p8GPPf-67 … as part of a family history. As for names, I was born on St. John’s day, January 7, and the extended family expected me to be named accordingly. My mother, at age 18 upon my birth, said there were already too many Johns in the family, so she named me after her movie star crush at the time, Ronald Coleman. I have never felt my name was appropriate, given my Greek heritage, but I still honor my mother’s decision. I prefer now to be known as ‘Ron’. As for the current situation at acute hospitals dealing with COVID, I can imagine the stresses and difficulties, feeling ever more grateful for those who have chosen the healing professions.

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    1. Thank you Ron… the story of your name is classic. I can imagine the consternation. I must say I find the rhymes of generational naming reassuring and it gives a sense of belonging. Take care. Yes, COVID has revealed the true wealth of heath care workers in society.

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  2. Gosh, that has a profound meaning to it, which I had not thought of. Thank you for your care of all the staff at Kingsway, no have no idea how it impacts us as a team🌷

    Sent from my iPhone

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  3. MDB… as usual very moving and informative. Yet again so well written.

    I was waiting to read about your new godchild with almost the same name as your Mums maiden name… but it wasn’t there.

    Havé a lovely day tomorrow.. and good week ahead. X j

    Jane Bedford

    98 11th Ave – Morningside Durban – 4001 – SA C: +27(0) 828 817 260 jane@janebedford.com http://www.janebedford.com

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