An Artist's Quest

What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” so Juliet tells Romeo in Shakespeare’s tragedy of a play.  And what about the “Fetid Adder’s Tongue”?  Why such tragically ugly name pinned on such a lovely, little flower?  Does it change our experience to know the name?  So what’s in a name anyway?  As a school aged kid with a very common name (I was one of three Lisa’s in my third grade class) I used to fantasize about who I would be if I just had a different name.  I wondered if my name was more exotic would I be more exotic?  Can a name shape how people react to us?  And while I may have listed fantasy names in a diary I never took the plunge to really change my name, as my father himself did as young man to stake a claim on his own identity and make himself new and separate from his family name.  It’s possible that my commonplace name propelled me to stand out amongst the crowd, that the ordinariness of Lisa the name poked me into being unexpected and unique Lisa the person.  It’s hard to say, what effect a name can have.  I know a young woman who has the astoundingly lovely name of Skye Blue.  It’s true!  What would I have done with such a moniker!?  Or could it be a burden to write such poetry at the top of every book report, essay, and final exam and at the bottom of every credit card slip?  Are our expectations of a person influenced by their name?  This all became more than conversation when my husband and I were expecting our son.  Fairly quickly we decided to name him after my husband’s sweet, kind, gentle grandfather, Ivan, wanting to imbue him with the attributes along with the name.  You would not believe the raised eyebrows we got when we told folks our plans and not just a couple of “Ivan the Terrible” remarks.  We always countered with “Ivan the Terrific”, but it did give me pause, was I hanging a name on him that would burden him?  In the end we pressed on and decided the world needed this Ivan and he has turned out terrific.  We are who we are despite of or because of our name.  We have the power, as adults, to change it or embrace it, shorten it or hyphenate it and pound it to fit our form.  And what of “Fetid Adder’s Tongue”?  This diminutive flower that carries such a colossal name flowers for perhaps another month so go seek it out and find out for yourself what’s in a name.

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4 responses

  1. Gpa

    You phrased your explaination of my name change perfectly. Luv you, Daddy

    February 25, 2011 at 3:02 pm

  2. Calen

    What a lovely reflection and a lovely painting! Thank you! I love the idea that with a “common” name you can bring out the unique beauty of your Self. As someone with a somewhat unusual name, this brought up a story for me. I always have to pronounce my name extra carefully, repeat it, and give people tricks to remember that it’s not “Caitlin.” Often when I repeat it, I say, “Calen, like Caitlin but without the T. It’s a weird name,” by which I meant unusual: this is something I say all the time. And someone who overheard me said, after the conversation was over, “Your name isn’t weird. Why would you say that?” and went on to say that it must be a bummer to feel a need to be self-deprecating every time I introduce myself, and suggest gently that I could just let people learn how to pronounce my name without commentary. This was a small interaction, but felt like a radical and freeing idea!

    February 25, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    • I bet we all have stories about our names, sharing your name with someone is a very personal interaction where you give a little piece of yourself. One of my favorite stories about an unusual name comes from my friend Siobhan. No one ever knows how to spell her name or say her name so whenever ordering at a coffee shop or sandwich place when ask “what the name?” she always says Pam! She just realized she didn’t have to tell the story of her name every time she ordered a latte. I’d love to hear more name stories out there, Lisa

      February 26, 2011 at 12:25 pm

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