In the autumn of 2010, I took one of the most fascinating and challenging courses of my entire graduate program, Introduction to Old English. Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, was spoken by the inhabitants of the British Isles from 449-1066AD. A Germanic language, Old English is an ancestor of Modern English (what we speak now). During the first class session, the professor explained that we would learn the rudiments of Old English grammar and history, complete our own translations, and read canonical texts – including schoolbook dialogues between lords and shepherds, beautiful epic poems, medieval sermons, and charms to ward off a swarm of bees.
To begin steeping us in Anglo-Saxon culture, our professor insisted that we choose Old English names. We would use these in place of our legal names throughout the course, creating helpful place cards for our desks and writing them on all our assignments. To inspire us, the professor wrote a series of words on the board – things like “gar” (spear), “wine” (friend), “beorht” (bright), “æthel” (noble), “treow” (tree/true), and “cyne” (great/mighty). She said we could assemble a name from these 20-30 words or create our own, using our simple Anglo-Saxon/Modern English dictionary. In true Anglo-Saxon style, we would craft an identity for ourselves by marrying two strong words together.
After some deliberation over the dictionary, I sought help from an enthusiastic friend. Katie and I found a database of Anglo-Saxon words online, and she suggested the name Modwyn. “It means ‘heart’s joy,’” she said. “Perfect for you!”
At the next class, our professor went up and down the rows, asking each student to spell and pronounce the Old English name he or she had chosen. With some students, she asked for an explanation – why had they chosen that particular name or what did they think it meant? For others, like the student who dubbed himself “Gar-cyne” (Great Spear), little justification was desired.
When it was my turn, I pronounced Modwyn proudly. I stressed the first syllable, gave a tall, elegant, long “oh,” and a playful short “i” in wyn. MOHD-wyn.
“Brave joy.” My instructor noted the name and the spelling and smiled at me. “Beautiful.”
“I thought it meant ‘heart’s joy,’” I said.
“It does,” she explained. “But mod is your heart, your mood, your innermost self. It also means brave. And wyn, of course, is joy.”
Perhaps because I adored the class and the language, I began to internalize the concept of brave joy, an inner joy indomitable by outside forces. I thought of my own happiness as a small, private ember that I nourished through music, learning, nature, and frequent laughter. It was an ember that rarely winked out, and, because I was happy most days, I thought, “I’m just a happy person.”
However, I know that thought is no longer true. I’ve lately remarked to my mother that being an adult really sucks. I have bills and responsibilities, and I’m a citizen of a world with an excess of violence and hardship. Sometimes I feel burdened by the problems that are too big for me to solve. Other times, I feel panic and anxiety because I can’t imagine the future. In these moments, I forget my own strength. I forget the joy that inspired my Old English name. I want to find delight in small things – birdsong, the smell of sautéd garlic, a friendly greeting – but I fear that my joy makes me seem naive or irresponsible.
Only when I am coming out of one of these difficult times can I remember my own strength and the resilience I’d like to have. In these moments, I realize that each day’s happiness is an act of courage, not an act of naiveté. To commit to living a joyful life, I must fight for the joy I want. I must put away the impressions of others. It is absurd to think that only naive people are happy, but this is a sentiment I face daily. Maybe because I am young or blind or female, others often take my happiness for granted. They look at me and think, “She is just a happy person.”
There is no such thing as “just a happy person.” Happiness is a daily commitment, and joy requires effort and courage. There is no name for weak joy or tired joy or craven joy. All joy is brave joy.
I’ve kept the name Modwyn because I want to commit myself to living with brave joy, a feeling that empowers me to handle my work and responsibilities with integrity and passion. I blog under the name Modwyn because this blog is where I display my commitment to courage and happiness. Anger and frustration will continue to motivate some posts, but I hope that joy will inspire many more.
This is my sincere expression of gratitude to the readers who have been with me so far and my extension of welcome to those just joining. I started this blog for myself; I wanted to encapsulate the funny and frustrating moments of my life. I expected only a handful of family members and loyal friends to take an interest. But now, as others read, share, and respond, I realize that it can be so much more than I ever imagined. I know that the brave joy will spread.