Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"O, be some other name!"

We are well aware that modern poets...chose words for their denotation rather than for their connotation. They dislike all words with overtones, and prefer the flat music of the tuning fork to the reverberations of the organ.
Robert L. Ramsay
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet....

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;--
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title:--Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I'll be new baptiz'd;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo....

By a name
I know not how to tell thee who I am:
My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself,
Because it is an enemy to thee.
Had I it written, I would tear the word.
— William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2
The American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition, defines nominalism as "the doctrine holding that abstract concepts, general terms, or universals have no independent existence but exist only as names." Nominalism has also been defined as a philosophical position that various objects labeled by the same term have nothing in common but their name.
— Wikipedia article on Nominalism
And the meaning of fine words cannot be made 'obvious', for it is not obvious to any one: least of all to adults, who have stopped listening to the sound because they think they know the meaning. They think argent 'means' silver. But it does not. It and silver have a reference to x or chem. Ag, but in each x is clothed in a totally different phonetic incarnation: x+y or x+z; and these do not have the same meaning, not only because they sound different and so arouse different responses, but also because they are not in fact used when talking about Ag. in the same way. It is better, I think, at any rate to begin with, to hear 'argent' as a sound only (z without x) in a poetic context, than to think 'it only means silver'. There is some chance then that you may like it for itself, and later learn to appreciate the heraldic overtones it has, in addition to its own peculiar sound, which 'silver' has not.
— J.R.R. Tolkien, in a letter to his aunt, Jane Neave.
...To him that overcometh I will give the hidden manna and will give him a white counter: and in the counter, a new name written, which no man knoweth but he that receiveth it.
Apocalypse 2:17

SEE THE ARTICLE, Names Make a Difference, from The Rule:
The name of the child, and its spelling, has an impact on the child's self-image AND upon the expectations of those around the child.
'Parents who make up bizarre names for their children are ignorant, arrogant or just foolish.'
Moral of the story: Give your girl a girl's name, and she will be treated as such. Dress your girl like a girl, and she will be treated as such.
The name given a child has a great influence on that child's life, and that article specifically deals with how girls' names influence their wanting to study mathematics and the sciences. Girls with less feminine names will more often go into masculine fields of study, although ironically, girls with standard names will score higher in those same fields. Why math or the sciences are such worthy subjects that you would want to risk harming a girl's identity, just to get her to study them, is another topic.

To the ancients, the naming of a child was of supreme importance, for it not only had to be a good name, but also the right name. The name, they knew, would tell the child who he is.

This is to be contrasted to the modern tendency to see names as mere identifying labels. Taken to an extreme, children could be named something like "Citizen #1329871405", which we sometimes see in dystopian fiction. Alternatively, naming names can be seen as a creative endeavor, where the namer is concerned with his own ego, especially when he gives a child a unique, and perhaps highly inappropriate name. In both cases, names are seen as being meaningless or of little importance.

The modern scientific theory of the world describes a flat, meaningless, and joyless cosmos, where everything is defined in terms of simple interactions. Names and other symbols can't have a place in this kind of world, since according to this theory, things don't mean, but merely are. But the use of words and symbols, and especially proper names, are what distinguishes a human from a beast.

This means that our modern view of the cosmos logically has no place for the self. The self logically cannot be characterized or integrated into the modern scientific view of the world. This can lead to an identity crisis, where a person madly attempts to understand and place himself in the world, where, according to theory, he logically cannot exist. This is why names, the right names, are so important: names give identity, but this is precisely what is denied by modern philosophy.

Juliet was wrong: if a rose is instead called a prickly stinkweed, the connotations of that name may overpower the beauty of that flower. And of even more importance, perhaps no one would cultivate these 'stinkweeds', due to their name, and so the rose would never approach its perfection as a beautiful, but thorny flower; but would remain a forgotten and overlooked weed, of interest only to botanists compiling lists of plant species. However, its intrinsic beauty would demand a new, truer name. The same goes with children; a bad name can cause a child to be rejected. So Juliet contradicts herself: "Montague" is the wrong name, and there ought to be a better.

A name can push a child from behind, like the "Boy Named Sue" in a song made famous by Johnny Cash, or girls that are now being named Alex; these are names calculated to influence a child in some direction or another. This may be good or bad. I would prefer role-model names, however, given in honor of someone worthy of imitation, such as a relative, hero, or Saint. Some American Indian tribes traditionally gave children naturalistic names, and these are also role-model names.

But a name can be especially appropriate for an individual child. It is somewhat mysterious, but I've been told that expectant mothers can often tell something about the personality of a child while still in the womb. Certainly aspects of personality which remain with a child into adulthood can be seen in a newborn infant. A child is traditionally given his Christian name at baptism, and not birth, and this gives his namers the opportunity of some time to choose a correct name. Romeo tells Juliet that he will be newly baptized: that is, he will reject the name of his family, and be merely her love.

There are times when a new name is called for, and in many contemplative religious orders, members receive a new name upon taking vows. This is especially appropriate because a person who makes a total commitment to Christ 'dies to himself' and instead 'puts on Christ'. He no longer keeps his old identity.

Some people, like actors and other celebrities, change their name for business reasons, and this is understandable. Corporations do the same thing. Occasionally, some adults have suffered so much from an inappropriate name that they feel compelled to change it. And the Bible has instances of new names: Abram becomes Abraham, Simon becomes Peter, and Saul becomes Paul. Women would take the name of their husband upon marriage to recognize his headship of the household. In all of these cases, the change of name is appropriate and truthful. Other people change their names for ignoble purposes: those who attempt to "reinvent themselves" seem to be more interested in deceiving others (or themselves), and these are often precisely the kind of persons who have an unstable self-identity, often due to mental illness, or the abuse of modern psychology. The use of "handles" in electronic communications is a convenience (often due to a technical requirement for having unique names) but can also be highly deceiving. Some take on a new name due to crime, and this is also deceiving.

The very best of names are those that pull from ahead: like the name written on the white stone given to the soul in the book of Revelation, a person grows into his name. He earns his name. This is the most mysterious kind of name of all, and it requires the action of divine grace. We see this in mythology, where a hero has a seemingly inappropriate name, but due to an unforeseen heroic act, earns the name and makes it his own. The ancients, and Christians, believe both in free will and destiny, and so this kind of name is freely earned, and yet truly foreordained. Read Boethius to see how this is true.

The U.S. Social Security Administration publishes an annual report of popular American baby names, which can be seen at I often find these lists to be fascinating, for they tell quite a bit about our culture. One thing I notice from the list of the top 100 names found at that website is that boys overwhelmingly are named after Christian Saints and Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, whereas girls have a larger number of pagan and secular names, and this trend goes back decades. Perhaps this may be a reason why females have a stronger tendency to become involved in New Age religions; for they lack the Christian identity in their name.

Top 10 Names for 2006
Rank Male name Female name
1 Jacob Emily
2 Michael Emma
3 Joshua Madison
4 Ethan Isabella
5 Matthew Ava
6 Daniel Abigail
7 Christopher Olivia
8 Andrew Hannah
9 Anthony Sophia
10 William Samantha

1 comment:

  1. A reader sends me this link:, which shows the use of baby names over the decades.

    Most distressingly, "Mary", the greatest of patronal names, was #1 through the 1950s; it dropped to #2 in the 60s, and is now far down the list. This seems highly significant.