The Naming of Things

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)

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3 responses to “The Naming of Things

  1. Naming can be a powerful agent of good, too. Think of Peter. Jesus gave him something to live up to. Think of the Sons of Thunder. Clearly Jesus didn’t give Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, but maybe, just maybe, it can be something to rise to. Something to work toward.

  2. Yes, Millie. I like your hopeful spirit. Good thoughts.

    In contrast to the ways the world names us, God names us and calls us his own. It makes me think of “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.”

    I’m going to think about this some more.

  3. “It was not till years later that I learned what a fatal art that is (the art of naming things) because if, on the one hand, to name a thing is to be able to address it, to appropriate it, to have a way of understanding it, it is, on the other hand, to erect a barrier between yourself and it which you only on the rarest and most inspired occasions are you ever able to surmount again.”
    Fredrick Buechner, The Sacred Journey

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