That’s what the woman said to her friend, sitting next to me at Elephant & Castle.
It was a remark to send your index finger twirling up beside your head. Unless, of course, you stop for a second and venture out from the thimble of our knowledge into the vast ocean of thought.
A name is what defines you. Define means to separate. To isolate. When you reside as an indistinct particle of an amorphous whole, a peaceful atom within the white quilted comforter of life, you don’t merit a name. But when you become a distinct entity, you are required to carry one at all times.
So the process of naming is a process of separating, but more profoundly, it is a process of objectifying. Named, you are maimed. Named, you migrate from the subject of experience to an object in the flow of experience. There’s a rock, a staple gun and Fred. I’m just one of the things that showed up, said Fred.
So what did the lady mean, nibbling on her Elephant & Castle Caeser Salad? By naming the animals, the animals went from being manifestations of life, citizens of a nation different but no less worthy than our own, to being objects. That’s not a person with a long neck and spots over there. It is a giraffe. That isn’t a being with four legs. It’s a dog. As soon as you turn animals into objects — and even the word “animal” objectifies them — the floodgates open. You can dominate, eat, kill, control them. You can even stick small Spanish guys on them and place bets. They are objects, after all. They have names to prove it.
Which explains the vast tapestry of death called history. Start naming people…Jew-Arab-Fascist-Republican-accountant…and people become things, with all the lack of rights and respect things are entitled to. The rest is easy.
In the Hebrew tradition, naming the Ultimate Reality is frowned upon. Any name you give the Unnameable limits it, objectifies it, and thus diminishes it.
Ironically, the name most often given to the Ultimate is “The Name.” HASHEM, in Hebrew. SHEM is the Hebrew word for “name”, deriving from the word NESHAMAH, which means soul. So from the Kabbalistic perspective, your name is your soul, and thus carries overwhelming importance. To change your name is to change the DNA of your soul.
The difference ends up being what you name. Give name to your being and your life is exalted. Give name to your category, and it promotes your thingness.
What’s in a name? It depends on what part of you you’re naming.