I apologize for having taken quite a long break from blogging — coursework’s kept me busy, and I’ve had some trouble with the internet connection at home. I’m back, though, and ready to start gearing up for National Poetry Month (April) / the April Poem-a-Day challenge! 🙂
Hope everyone’s been reading, reflecting, and writing!
What’s in a name?
This Friday’s prompt — as the Bard once wrote, “What’s in a name?” — was inspired by a line of dialogue I heard from a character in a video game. (Prompts really do strike you from out of anything!) The character in question had made a statement about the pride and strength she draws from her family name.
By an extension of the idea of signs (previous post), the quote immediately got me wondering about how her name, as a sign, had gained significance – so much significance that it became not only a matter of pride for her to boast it, but also gave her a sense of purpose on the battlefield.
What, indeed, is in a name?
Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2, Lines 38-47
“Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself
O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.”
This is the origin of the phrases “What’s in a name?” and “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – the idea that it is not the name (or title) of a person or thing that matters so much as their essence – what they really “are“.
Indeed, should one be another’s enemy merely because of a name, in this case – a family name that one inherits (not taken on by choice)?
Of course, one could also say that a name is inextricably linked with a person/thing’s personality or essence.
The video game character who inspired this post, for instance, found purpose in her name. It gave her something to fight for. Her family name and her title are very much a part of who she is essentially. She has become that kind of warrior because of her name. Would she have known this pride or strength had she been of some other name or title — or without any title at all? (Just as a note: she is based on a historical figure.)
And we understand a lot about a character’s aspirations, when he/she wishes to “make a name for him/herself”.
Identity, Belonging and Other Questions
It’s very interesting to wonder whether our names affect our character. In fact, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake deals with this concept in a certain light. It’s also a work about diaspora that deals with questions of identity and belonging, among other things. These are also important concepts where names are concerned.
How much of one’s sense of identity comes from one’s name? How much of one’s sense of belonging to one’s village/city/nation comes from one’s name? What if your name and your place, where you feel you belong, don’t “match”? Would you rather it match, or rather you stand apart? Does your name, like my video game warrior’s does for her, stand as a symbol of pride and strength for you?
These are all questions we can ask for anything – whether for self-reflection or to write more complex characters in that next novel.
In Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley, it’s clear that Kunta Kinte holds tightly on to his name as though it were a matter of survival – and indeed, it becomes so, as it is carried on from one generation to the next.
Similarly, naming can be seen as a very powerful act in Native American literature. An example is in N. Scott Momaday’s The Names: A Memoir, where he writes,
“Pohd-lohk affirmed the whole life of the child in a name, saying: Now you are, Tsoai-talee.”
There seems to be great power in naming people or things. We do know that language communication depends heavily on the system of naming. Writers spend hours together deciding on the perfect names for their characters. Why would that be? How much do names mean to you? Do they matter right down to their consonant and vowel sounds, the shapes of the letters on the page, the multiplicity of meanings that the name could take?
Every time you name a character, you can take various aspects of the name into consideration – the visual, auditory and psychological effects it has — on him/her, the other characters, and the reader.
You could even make powerful irony out of a name by having the character’s personality oppose it completely!
Here’s an interesting passage from Gary Paulsen’s Woodsong on imposing names on others:
“I began to understand that they are not wrong or right–they just are.
Wolves don’t know they are wolves.
That’s a name we have put on them, something we have done. I do not know how wolves think of themselves, nor does anybody …”
An incredible, heart-rendering piece of spoken-word poetry by Shane Koyczan on this (thank you, Fahima, for pointing me to it):
Write away, folks!
Whether it’s going to be another amazing piece of poetry like Mr. Koyczan’s, or your next character’s name and personality file, spend some time thinking about what, for you, is in a name — and don’t forget to write your thoughts down! 🙂 Happy writing and happy weekend, folks!