Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Rose by Any Other Name

"Chiara," according to everyone's favorite fact checking site, Wikipedia, is an Italian word meaning "clear."  There are several people with this word as a first or last name, and "Chiara" even forms a morpheme of the Italian surname Chiaramonte, a noble Sicilian family who claim descent from Charlemagne.

I tell you all this because a pair of encounters with said word in this morning's Lincoln Journal Star sent me a-searching for some information on this word.  The two usages, both as proper nouns, referred to apparently different things, and, I was certain, different ideas, and, being the curious life-long learner that I am (and having the power of the Interwebs at my fingertips), I did a little researching.

First, my initial encounters.  Ironically, perhaps, both of my encounters with the word occurred in the "fluff" section of the paper, "The (402)."  I believe I have mentioned this section before, so I will spare you my rail on that particular section's ridiculous name.  However, in the "At a Glance" feature, on page F2, where some events are listed and written about briefly, a headline reads: "Walk to conquer Chiara is at Holmes Lake Park."  The article explains that a fundraiser walk will be held "in an effort to bring awareness and funds to Chiara malformation."

The article further states that Chiara is "a neurological condition in which the brain descends out of the  skull and puts pressure on the spine." Really?  That actually happens to people? Their brains fall out of their skulls.  Why?  How?  It sounds like an awful condition.  Of course, it is, I thought to myself. Why else would they need to raise funds or awareness? Nobody would be interested in a Stubbed Toe 5K, would they?  Who would pay $25 to race in a Pretty Bad Stomach Flu Fun Run?  We only tie up our Mizunos for big causes, like cancer, muscular dystrophy, or chiara, to name just a few.

As I turned the page, I found on F4 a review of a recent chamber music performance: "Chiara members open Sheldon Friends season."  I have heard of this Chiara Quartet, two men and two women, who are well-known in the chamber music circles.  They have made many appearances here in the Lincoln area, always to great acclaim.  But this review, published so close to and on the same day as the fundraiser walk, stoked my inquisitiveness.  I needed to make sure that these chamber players weren't being highly insensitive, naming themselves after a neurological condition suffered by "about 300,000 people in the United States."

And, so, I was led to the Wikipedia, where I find listings for celebrities named Chiara, saints and singers, physicists and attorneys. I find the names of churches and a "religious complex" (don't you mean a "church?").  And, I find links to the aforementioned "Chiaramonte" and a pair of words that are homophones of "chiara," itself.  What I don't find is any mention of any neurological condition.  I had to search the Google a bit more to find any discussion of dropped brain syndrome (an alternate, totally rad, name I have given to the condition, myself), but I did find some information about the condition that affects more people in the US than live in Barbados.

(Interestingly, the website Researching Virtual Initiatives in Education, on their page "All Countries by Population," divides countries using "'scientific' nomenclature." For instance, a country with at least 1000 million people is a "kilostate;" a country with at least 0.3 million but less than 1 million is a "tridecistate" (also known as a minicountry); a country with less than 0.01 million people, a picocountry, is a "millistate." There are also "centistates" and "hectostates," orthocountries, nanocountries, and gigacountries.  Another bit of information learned on this random research project.)

But, back to "chiara."  I learned a lot in the several minutes I spent researching this little mystery, but I was left with a few questions. First, I wondered where the quartet came upon their name?  Is it a tribute to a person, or a place (most likely a church)?  I also wondered if they were even aware of their close association with a leaking skull?  But, more importantly, I wondered how, if the Chiara fundraising initiative was sophisticated enough to organize multiple events such as this weekend's 5K walk, they were unable to draft as valuable a PR tool as a Wikipedia page? Because, when you think about it, not everybody is going to be as dogged a researcher as I have been today.  If people don't get their wiki-fix on the first search, right at the top, they'll go right back to looking for topless pictures of Ryan (Hey, girl) Gosling.  And, if you're trying to drum up support for a disease or a condition, you have to do one of two things: make sure a lot of people suffer from it (i.e., cancer) or that a lot of people know about it (i.e., muscular dystrophy).

Finally, if I were in a string quartet, and I found out it was named after a neurological condition that can lead to deafness, dizziness, double vision, eye pain, headaches, and spasticity (I did not make this word up), I might just change my name to Cancer.


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