What’s in a name?

whats-in-a-nameSo just the other day I called up a friend, his mother(who didn’t know me) happened to pick up at the other end , and as I engaged in what was yet another futile attempt at introducing myself and explaining my weird name over the phone, I went from being a Maharashtrian named Jiniyas to a a Gujrati named Jignesh in 2.45 seconds.

So the word of the day is “Names”.

If everyone was the same would there be a need to identify yourself ? I think not. So it’s not unwise to assume that names are a sign of individuality. And we humans aren’t the only ones who use names,  dolphins call each other by names by using unique signature whistles.

Personal names function as identifiers we use them to label each other, because we are all unique and stuff. Once anthropologists(people who study humankind) were studying a group of people they thought to be so primitive and unorganized that they didn’t use names, but, it was later found out that their customs and taboos required that names be kept secret from strangers(anthropologists in this case). From that it isn’t hard to see that the relationship between the name and a person’s identity in a society is very strong(without a name you are denied things). Consider for a second that in some countries, their prison system requires that a prisoners name be taken away and he/she be given a number – a sign that since the prisoner is no longer a functional member of society he/she isn’t entitled to an identity and thus doesn’t require a name.

We know that first names aren’t unique. There are enough Ajay’s, Muhammed’s, Mary’s, Pooja’s and John’s around to make our head spin.

There’s this amusing tale about one of the way’s in which surname’s came to be:-

People wanted to talk about a particular person named John and not confuse him with some other John(apparently there were a lot of John’s around back in the Middle ages). So they began using some other detail about that person to refer to him. If he was a fisherman then he might become John Fisher, or John Brown if he had a dark face or hair.

A few years back, I was contacted by a Nigerian gentlemen who shares his surname with me. He was curious about what it meant in my language(in his it meant, “a deity has come.”) I of course was oblivious and didn’t know what to say.

So surname’s aren’t unique either.  What then of uniqueness, since it seems like a moot point if two or more people have the same first and last name(assuming uniqueness and identity being the point behind names)? So let’s stop and think out loud for a second.

                              With all that a name does for a person,

                does the person add anything to the name in return?

You might have noticed that, saying the name of someone you love and addressing  a namesake(someone with the same name)stranger feels VERY different. You are aware of the former’s individuality and how important they are to you, but that’s not the case with the stranger[This is all mere speculation on my part so no need to take it seriously.]

From my own meager experience in the matters of romance, saying the name of someone I adore, greatly calms me, it’s my very own personal prayer. Whereas addressing someone else with the same name has no such effect. Saying the name of the namesake in fact makes me think of the person I actually care about and not them. Trippy.

So I guess, the KPOW! (punch) in a name, is the feel of a person.

Just as a name gives a uniqueness(in most cases) to a person, the person too returns the favor.

Then it follows that a name doesn’t merely label a person, but can also function as an evocative(evoking feelings like love, hate, etc…etc.. from specific people towards specific people.)

This explains why words like God, Devil can evoke such strong reactions from people. It’s not just the name, it’s what it stands for.

If you are open to it, words can create a transformative experience in you, helping you grasp,express things better.

So the next time you  take your lover’s or your best friend’s or your child’s name and find yourself swelling up with these wonderful feelings that saying a little word brought about, I hope you wonder then, “What’s in a name?”


Now a question for the reader-

(If you have)What was it like meeting your namesake  for the first time and addressing them with your own name? Anything odd about the encounter or did it feel natural?

 Please do share, I’d love to know.


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