How to …
… use names
Saturday September 2, 2006
Whoever said sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you was a fathead. A bad name is a lot more painful than a bad leg. Similarly, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet but you’d be less likely to give it a sniff if it was called stenchwort.
Changing your name for whatever reason can be unsettling. Actors who change their names often suffer a mild form of split personality. Taking your husband’s name is one of the most difficult things in marriage, along with the fact that they’re now sharing a house with a complete idiot.
Knowing someone’s name is a huge step on the road from stranger to friend. Getting someone’s name wrong repeatedly is a little branch off this road leading to a place called hatred. When you’re having an argument with a stranger, saying “What’s your name” is very threatening. “Let me take your details” is the administrative equivalent of this because they now know who you are and where you live.
Naming a child is the closest most people ever get to writing poetry. You weigh the feel and resonance of the word over and over again before deciding the world needs another Hector. In the old days, naming was fairly easy because all you did was open the Bible. Now the major source of inspiration is Australian soap operas. All we need is a new soap character called Methuselah and we’d be back where we started.
Nicknames are the names people other than your parents give you. Whether you like it depends largely on whether the donor liked you. Losing a nickname is like extracting a bee sting; the more you try to get rid of it, the deeper it goes. Having a good nickname is great because you can then grade people you know into those who call you “Chuggers” and those who still call you Jonathan.
Naming something brings it into existence and using the name confirms that it is alive. The most beautiful name is that of the person you’ve just fallen in love with. Suddenly the most magical word in the entire English language is Tim. There is a stage beyond someone knowing your name when you can announce yourself by saying, “It’s me.” If the answer is, “Who?” you may not have got to that stage yet.