Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why do we name things?

Have you ever thought... Why do we have such a strong urge to name things? We are not contend by naming humans... we also name all our pets - that too with human names. We can not eat a fruit without calling it by a name. We can not climbdown a mountain without calling it Mt so and so. We name cyclones, waves, stars, volcanoes, waterfalls, rivers, deserts, islands... There are millions of species of animals apart from us on this planet and all of them carry out their business without having to name any thing.

I understand that we started out naming people to be distinctive and unique. Fine and fair argument... But some where down the line, we missed the very point and started naming children after some body else... clearly defeating the uniqueness objective. As if to bring order to chaos, we started having two parts to a name "person" and "family". World was peaceful until some body thought it was just not enough and came up with a "middle" name. Now we have "prefixes" and "suffixes"... This would be Bill Gates if he were knighted.... Sir William Henry Gates III. In the midst of all these, our dear friends from Andhra Pradesh created a rival system of naming... the only logic seems to be 'longer the better'. Try this Rajasekhara Srinivasulu Laxminarayana Siva Venkata Sai - Yes, it is one person's name and people call him Sai.

People of royal birth seems to have got the entire naming funda wrong... they rotate the same name every 2-3 generations. In Thailand, the king is always known as Rama.

On the other hand, you christen a person with a beautiful and well thought out name. But actually call him by his nickname. Fine, you did not like the real name. So you called him by nickname. But some cultures have rules in nicknaming a person too. Robert has to be nicknamed Bob, John-Jack, William-Bill, Elizabeth-Liz... So you are not actually *choosing* the nickname.

There is another peculiar thing that comes to notice about we referring to people:

We do not use names to refer to people if they are many of them. "There were many people at the function". We also do not use names if we do not care about the person. "The new finance guy is a moron".

Once we are a little more familiar with a person not referring to him by name may sound disrespectful. I can not keep referring to people at office as "the receptionist", or "the tech support guy", or "the MD" - although there are only one of each kind at my office. Familiarity makes me use their names. We also use names when there are less of them... "Mayank and Keshava are good friends of mine".

Again, if a person becomes too close to you... you stop referring to them by name. An Oscar acceptance speech would go like "I would like to thank my *Mother* for all that she has done...". Some times a "her" or a "him" in a sentence carries all the meaning it has to...

Does it not seem strange when we choose to refer a person/thing by its name?

When we talk about names, its hard to ignore Mr Shakespeare. He said "A Rose By Any Other Name Would Be a Rose"... But I ask why name it at all?

PS: We even name blogs... even when the best one came up with is "random"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In my native place, there are hardly 50-60 houses. You will find 5 "Narayana" s, 5 "Ishwara"s, 10 "Lakshmi" s ...etc. The funny thing is we call one God with thousand names. We have Sahasranama for all deities. But we call thousand people with same name !!!....