in a name


I’m sure many of you are familiar with the line from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” 

In a sense this is true, a person is no better or worse because of the name they bear. And yet, a name is not insignificant. If a rose were instead called a kwert, I doubt there would be nearly as many girls given the name. 

There is a sonic significance, a special feeling in the way letters are arranged to form a word. Besides that, many names have meaning in themselves. If you name your child, “Brave” it would no doubt have a very different outcome on the way they perceive themselves or others perceive them than if you named them, “Coward.”

A name matters. 

Think of those extra letters you get to add for completing a doctorate or becoming a medical doctor. They show something important about you. Same goes for a last name taken from a spouse during marriage or when an adopted child takes on the name of their new parents. It is a mark of inclusion, of becoming part of a family. It’s something Romeo and Juliet were not able to do because of the history behind their names.

Names can give you access or restrict you. They can inspire or incite anger. The name Robert E. Lee today is likely to draw out a strong emotional response in a conversation.  

Names have power.

I recall C.S. Lewis’s love for titles with a sense of wonder. He was fascinated by the title of the novel, The Well at the World’s End.

After reading the wikipedia article on it, I was interested to discover how both Lewis and Tolkien drew inspiration from the story, borrowing a few names such as "King Gandolf," "King Peter," and even a fast horse named "Silverfax.” 

Some of my own favorite book titles are The Name of the Wind, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and A Winkle in Time. Perhaps it is because of the way they hint at something unusual happening with a very large aspect of nature.

I think also of how important names were in the Bible. The meaning behind your name in some way dictated who you would become. God even gave some people new names after a major event or transformation had taken place: Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, and Saul became Paul. 

All this to say, if you have the opportunity to choose a name, especially for a person, maybe you should take it seriously. Or you could always go with a joke name. I’m sure your kids will appreciate your humor for the rest of their lives (I knew a guy in Elementary school named Rocky Mountain, and I’ve always thought Lisa Kar would be a good one).