In recent few weeks several people have asked us what name we were planning on giving our house. While we’re not convinced that names should be given to normal everyday houses – as opposed to holiday houses where people can let loose all their cheesy instincts and come up with bad puns and more often than not lame-but-forgivable attempts at humour – it’s probably a question worth considering now that we’re entering the last leg of construction (and when I say “last leg”, I’m illustrating a generous amount of optimism).
The unrelenting human desire to put an identity on a house can lead to some dubious results. When you take a look at message boards and posts where people discuss house names, you do find examples of original and humorous names, but most are just groan-inducing. Some people like to play with their own names – yep “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is a firm favourite, but despite the fact that we have a Tom in our family, there is zero temptation to follow suit. Some decidedly cringeworthy ones I stumbled across are Shangri-Lou (guess who has a “Lou” in the family?), Avarest, La Costa Plenty, Psycottage (property of a very proud psychologist), The Beer Cave, and the oh-so-original This is It and Finally.
In the villages here some Portuguese owners have a naming convention of their own. The gates to their properties proudly feature their initials, or more correctly, the initials of the man of the house. While I kind of like the simplicity of this practice (and imagine how easy it is for a new – or hungover – postman!), we’re obviously not Portuguese and don’t want to offend these good people by assuming their traditions too freely. Besides, how do we choose the initials in this day of enlightenment and equality?
Another suggestion that has come up repeatedly is Casa de Azevinho or Holly House. You guessed it – we have holly trees growing on our land and very early on we discovered that Holly is a protected species here, which means you cannot remove, chop down or dare offend a holly tree. To see the giant backhoe gently uprooting one little holly tree during excavation and carefully replant it elsewhere was a sight to behold. I can report that it is still alive, a wee bit bigger than before and apparently happy with its new location and the respect it received.
The obsession with holly trees made me curious and I quickly discovered that Celtic mythology offers many quirky facts about the holly. Did you know that for eons it has been believed that holly plants have protective properties? Yes, they’re supposed to be effective guards against lightning (and therefore planted close to houses), poisoning and mischievous spirits. Holly plants were left untouched when hedges were trimmed to make life difficult for the witches that ran along the tops. The Druids took holly plants into their houses in winter to offer shelter to elves and fairies, but you invited serious bad luck if you kept even one little leaf inside after a midwinter celebration called Imbolc, something like a Celtic Groundhog Day. Apparently holly also symbolizes holiness, consecration, material gain, physical revenge, beauty, immortality, peace, goodwill and health. Physical revenge and peace in one sentence? Material gain and holiness? No wonder the plant has to be protected. In the Celtic Zodiac there are even Holly people (born July 8 – August 4) who are noble, high-minded, trustworthy and a whole lot more. And who knew that in modern times they would be drawn to banking and insurance? (hmm, okay, let’s leave that one alone for the moment).
Clearly there are many reasons to treat the humble holly with care, but these mixed messages, meanings and beliefs make it pretty complicated to distil it all down to the meaning you want to have associated with your new house. And that’s not all. A few worrisome rhyming patterns have popped into my head. There’s melancholy. And trolley (as in off yours). But especially there’s folly. House of Holly, House of Folly? Not a chance I want to take. So for now, despite the pressing matter of keeping the mischievous spirits under control, the property will simply remain “the property”. Besides, it has to be mentioned that Azevinho rhymes with maluquinho, parvinho and yes, also estupidinho*.
*crazy, fool/foolish and stupid (Portuguese diminutives)