What does it mean to be named?
Recently, many Americans were disillusioned with President Obama named as a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, a prize usually awarded to such accomplished peace people like Desmond Tutu. Without tangible “peace” to attach to his name, his naming seems meaningless, empty. So what does the naming mean in this case?
Sometimes naming can be harmful. Names we give to each other on the playground as children, names we call each other in hushed tones behind thinly vailed hands…who can’t remember a time when she was called a name that hurt? Ugly, fat, annoying, drama queen, fag, tries too hard. These names break you, echo in your spirit for decades to come, wrongly inform you of who you are not.
But can naming be painful in other ways? What about the names you can’t possibly seem to live up to? Responsible, pretty, stable, the best, smart. These are equally as debilitating. It’s like winning an award you think you don’t deserve.
Does Barak lie awake at night haunted like this?
Joan Didion talks about “a time in her life when she was frequently ‘named.'” Godmother, panelist, speaker, columnist, even Woman of the Year. She talks about how there were cues she felt she was supposed to be reading, but she no longer did. The names served as a trap, and a disconnect between how others viewed her, and who she felt she was.
“I was meant to know the plot, but all I knew was what I saw: flash pictures in variable sequence, images with no ‘meaning’ beyond their temporary arrangment, not a movie but a cutting room experience.” –The White Album
(“The Naming of Things” is also a spectacular Andrew Bird song)