What’s In A Name?


“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

by any other name would smell as sweet.”

— William Shakespeare

Names are anything. A name could spell power or disaster, hatred or admiration, respect or contempt. In most instances, we associate names with circumstances of either private or public significance and in the process, a name could acquire a connotation of fame or notoriety. In this particular consideration, there’s actually nothing inherent in a name that makes it outstanding or disgraceful, prominent or inconspicuous. The distinction or insignificance of a name is something obtained from an external derivation as a matter of substantial impression that may either be appreciative or derogatory. This reality leads to a generalization that ranges from the local to the global and could be sharply aimed to either break or make the person of an individual or a corporate outfit.

We tend to attribute qualities and impressions to names on the basis of how their past or present possessors conduct(ed) their lives and it so happened that many of them have landed on the pages of history: Alexander, Constantine, Augustine, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Gandhi, Washington and Lincoln to name a few. Even in the most local context of small towns and villages, names of respected  and vilified personalities create lasting impressions in the minds of people now and in the many generations ahead. In view of this, a multitude of namesakes emerge while other names are deemed nefarious and thus tabooed by social consensus. As an implied rule, nobody names her/his child Lucifer, Hitler or Judas.

However, we find parents naming their children after great heroes and famous personalities in showbiz, sports, politics, arts, science and technology among others with the aspiration in mind that their offspring will live up to the distinguished legacy of the persons after whom they are named. At this point, we acknowledge the reality that naming a child is basically an act of idealization. Underneath this convention is the fascination of the naming parents to think that in the future, the offspring will be like their idealized/idolized eminent namesakes. In conjunction with idealization is the effort of parents to programme and reinforce the personality and character of their child according to the qualities, skills and charisma of the idealized hero. The whole process could reasonably be construed as an act of spontaneous manipulation which appears to be as natural as it has been ordinarily done since time immemorial.

At a closer look, the satisfactory effect of this typical exercise is basically on the naming agent and not necessarily on the named subject. At a certain point of one’s life is the awakening stage of self-awareness wherein one realizes that s/he has been given a name that s/he is not comfortable with.  It may not always be the case since there are those who really like the names their parents bestowed on them so that they are even grateful that their parents gave them the names they proudly carry now. However, this positive acceptance doesn’t confer blanket endorsement to the traditional practice of naming done by parents.

With this in mind, I am of the opinion that parental naming as a socio-cultural convention should only be temporary. As a humanizing right, the act of naming should belong to the person her/himself who is to be named. This matter could be accomplished by the time the person has already reached the majority age and hence has already acquired a higher level of maturity in terms of decision-making and action-taking. Taking this into consideration opens up a totally radical way of looking at human reality at a point in time when everything conventional is placed under the microscopic lens of critical scrutiny.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 15 September 2015


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