Thursday, 10 December 2009

What's in a name?

I was thinking today about people’s names. There are many words that we use to describe the person that we are, such as I and me but our name, the one we are given at birth and perhaps later change – seems to hold meaning for us.

My name is fairly rare. I have met perhaps two other people in my life that share my Christian name. For me, though I guess not for everyone, it’s something of a novelty to meet another Hazel and practically unheard of to meet another Hazel Leese. There are 3 Hazel Leese’s on Facebook, only three, out of millions of users. Two of them are me! (I have a work and a personal Facebook account). The other, and for the sake of ego, 3rd Hazel Leese (because I’m the original and the best, ahem), is, I recall, much younger than me (the cheek) and a fairly recent Facebook recruit. This I know because I searched when I joined and searched again quite recently. Yes, yes, I’m extremely sad for checking but everyone with a less than common name does it (don’t they?).

Moving on. How is it that we somehow feel that our name belongs to us? We acquire it at birth, given to us by our parent(s), we learn to respond to our name and over the course of time, it becomes a part of us. Or do we become a part of it? Do we inhabit our own name? By that I mean that our name, somehow sits at the very epicentre of our identity. We belong to it. Other aspects of ourselves are transient – our age, address, friendships, careers, appearance, national identity (British, European, English in my case). Our name is fairly static. When we marry we can take on our partners name, though we can also choose to keep our own surname or truncate two names together. Western tradition has stated that the woman, through marriage, changes her surname to that of her husband, though this is beginning to evolve (I shall blog on this practice at another time). We can all change our name by legal process. There are many ways to become known as someone else, name-wise. Yet, as people that have changed their name know, you have to attach yourself to your new name. It’s a process and a necessary one because it’s more than mere label. It’s a system of belonging. Imagine what it would be like to have no name – to be unable to describe yourself, to introduce yourself to others. When we meet people, one of the key questions they ask us is, what’s your name. Although different naming structures exist throughout the world, at worldwide level, we all need to be able to identity ourselves by name, it’s both relational and personal.

So what’s in a name? We are. Biologically we exist, name or no name but sociologically and perhaps psychologically we exist within our name and through our name.

Fear not, my philosophical wonderings / irrelevant bollu (delete as appropriate) has ceased. I’m off to spend some quality time with a cup of tea and a biscuit or erm two.


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