21 January 2010

What's in a name?, Part II

Part I was my story. These are just some scattered thoughts.

In lit a few days ago, we were doing presentations, introducing ourselves and presenting something that's contemporary to us. There was a girl who did a beautiful, passionate presentation, blowing us all off our seats. At the end, the professor asked, "So, what's your name?", for she'd forgotten to mention it. "Oh, Sophia," she answered, "Names don't matter. There's a guy from home, he works in a record store, we have so many great conversations about life - I don't know his name. I just don't pay attention to such meaningless little things."

I've been thinking about names a lot lately. Your name isn't who you are. Your name doesn't define you. Your name, truly, is just an convenience. Yet, for some reason, we see it as a measure of knowing someone, of closeness. Is it really? Names are arbitrary.
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
Isn't all language arbitrary? By definition, language is a set of arbitrary symbols and sounds, only our knowledge lends them meaning.

But names are different. I'm a person. I'm a student. I'm an American. I'm so many things, yet I am my name. There's no actual or implied connection between myself and any other Ксения in the world, like there is between one rose and the next. Then why, why do these arbitrary sounds matter?

What if a name does matter? I ended my previous blog on this topic by mentioning something I saw on the news once: a woman who would help parents name their children based on the personality traits they wanted them to have. You want your kid to be friendly? Optimistic? Intelligent? Well, you should definitely name him Ryan!  Have you ever noticed any similarities between all or most people of a certain name? Junior year, my best friend and I determined that every guy named Kyle was gay (Kyle, I hope you're reading this and laughing).

I've been thinking about chosen names. A chosen name serves the same purpose as a given name, a convenient title with which to address someone, to call them out of a crowd. Yet, something seems to be missing - or is there something more to it? Without the experience of growing into it, of carrying it from birth, is a chosen name as "real" as a given name, or is it more real, more a part of oneself than a given name could ever be?

Of course, there are those that change their name for no apparent reason. Then, there are certain communities, certain groups of people, where all names are chosen names, not given names. What is a name in such a culture? I'm thinking about Asian-American immigrants, trans folk, and Deaf culture.

The latter I find especially intriguing. We watched a film in my linguistics class last semester about ASL and American Deaf culture. Deaf individuals discussed selecting names upon entering schools for the deaf. Their name signs weren't arbitrary, but represented something about them, such as the way their hips swayed. Now that, to me, seems like a real name.

I'm thinking about spelling. How you spell your name is a huge part of it, and many people put a lot of thought into how they spell their chosen name. I've been thinking about the first letter of a name, and how fond people grow of it. When I decided to choose a new name for college, a friend said "Why don't you just choose something random? Like, Chloe or something." I couldn't. What mattered to me more than anything else was that the first letter of my name - "K" - remained the same; and not just the "k" sound, but the letter - "K".  I'm not the only one, and I've seen this first letter phenomenon again and again and again.

I've also been thinking about a different type of chosen name, nicknames within a certain group of people: camp names, online personas, drag names, etc. These names are still real, but in such a different way. I'm not a different person when I'm Cream - really, I'm not - but yet I have a different name.

Why names? Why do we love them, hate them, think about them, learn them when we meet someone? Why do we gasp them during sex? I am more than my name. I am more without my name.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my God, wow. I'm so glad you're minoring in Linguistics. I can't explain how much I love reading your thought process about this. It's so similar to mine a few years ago. And I was laughing at that point--mostly because of the obvious and also because I came to the conclusion in middle school that Kyle was a jock name, ha ha. And spelling, even, is both important and meaningless. I used to spell my name differently, but changed it out of convenience and it didn't really change meaning, not too much. And sign language, mine was given, but because of spelling, remains the same even today. But was it different than one that would have been given at birth? Who knows. It's certainly fascinating to think about. Above all, I'm so glad that your classmate has the same feeling. I never ask people's names or even remember to introduce people, because it doesn't matter to me. It's more what a person says and who they are than what label I call them. More than and more without... What a thought.