I have a Chinese first name that sounds like an English name and means comfort. Ten years ago, I wrote about an epiphany I had relating to the meaning of my name.

I don’t know that my parents ever intended my name to be prophetic. Chinese names generally follow a family custom and are selected to mean (or sound like) something auspicious. The only additional criterion my parents had, knowing that we would migrate to Australia, was that this name should be easily transcribed into English.

My feelings about the noun comfort are mixed. I wish I’d had more creature comforts growing up (y’know, nice things) and yet as a young adult I felt deeply unsettled about my privilege and affluence. 

Noun or verb?

The revelation about my name came while listening to someone talking about Psalm 23 in Cantonese. In this translation of verse 4, my name was used as a verb rather than a noun.

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
comfort me.

Psalm 23:4 (NIV) (emphasis mine)
Photo credit: joseph d’mello.

Hearing “Ann” used this way made me really think about my name. Suddenly it was less, well, fluffy. It was almost purposeful, intentional.

Yet ten years ago, the verb comfort still seemed more passive than I hoped to be as a person. Tired of an entire Enneagram Type 9 childhood of passivity and complacence, I was desperate to change the world, live differently, reroute myself away from the rat race. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and shake others out of theirs.

But over the last ten years, I’ve seen more suffering around me. The world is as broken as I thought it was when I was a pessimistic, emo teen. Life and relationships even in a peaceful, prosperous society, are hard. Perhaps it is plenty to be comfort.

Comfort as strength

Reflecting on the Latin roots of the English word has also proven encouraging:

comfort (v.)

late 13c., conforten “to cheer up, console, soothe when in grief or trouble,” from Old French conforter “to comfort, to solace; to help, strengthen,” from Late Latin confortare “to strengthen much” (used in Vulgate), from assimilated form of Latin com-, here perhaps an intensive prefix + fortis “strong”.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary.

The emphasis on strength as a dimension of comfort is interesting. I have never thought of myself as a strong person. Physically, I’m petite. Mentally, I’m not particularly disciplined. Emotionally, I avoid unpleasant feelings like the plague.

But when I reflect on when I am my best self, I think it is when I am a listening ear and a voice of reassurance to those who are suffering. When I am a place that friends can come to with their fears, doubts or pain, and find strength.

Comfort as personal development

In recent times, I have become profoundly aware of this part of who I am and what I bring to the world. Funnily enough, this is consistent with healthy levels of my Enneagram type:

Level 1 (At Their Best): Become self-possessed, feeling autonomous and fulfilled: have great equanimity and contentment because they are present to themselves. Paradoxically, at one with self, and thus able to form more profound relationships. Intensely alive, fully connected to self and others.

Level 2: Deeply receptive, accepting, unselfconscious, emotionally stable and serene. Trusting of self and others, at ease with self and life, innocent and simple. Patient, unpretentious, good-natured, genuinely nice people.

Level 3: Optimistic, reassuring, supportive: have a healing and calming influence—harmonizing groups, bringing people together: a good mediator, synthesizer, and communicator.

‘Type Nine Levels of Development’, The Enneagram Institute (emphasis mine)

That’s not to say I am always this picture of strength and health. Sometimes I talk too much and listen too little. Sometimes other people’s problems make me want to disengage and retreat. And sometimes I am just lazy.

By sometimes I mean often.

Comfort may be in my name and my personality type but that doesn’t mean it’s effortless or automatic.

Living up to my name

Knowing that at my best I can be a person of comfort is deeply affirming and deeply challenging to me. It’s a way that I can serve others and contribute to the world. I should be more intentional about it. The meaning embedded in my name should be a call or a beacon to direct me as I go through life and grow as a person.

Perhaps it should also guide how and what I write here. This blog was intended to be a window into my everyday experience of identity, faith and culture. It exists because I like to write – but also because I’ve increasingly understood that what I write might mean something to others, as much is it expresses what matters to me.

So if the words in this place have ever given you comfort, hope, strength, then that is enough to keep me here, keep me writing.

What kind of comfort are we after? Photo credits: Gaelle Marcel / Annie Spratt.
Image credit: Barnes & Noble.

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