Sunday, March 23, 2008

What's In a Name?

So this was intended to be a short intro to an essay that I am working on. Unfortunately, I was whipped viciously by the rambles and in the end I have a long rant of nothingness to present to the world. Enjoy or don’t.

Names are a peculiar instrument of human existence. They are the verbal recognition of one’s being by another. As time passes they are but single word descriptors of one’s whole existence, purpose and role. A name is the singular, yet complicated, answer to “Who am I?” or “Who are you?”
Other animals certainly must have something parallel means of recognition through grunted noises, for our pets seem to be able to distinguish between “Kodi” and “Titus” when we call their names. However, humans have the extended philosophical mess with which to contend. It is highly doubtful that Fido ponders the label of his soul and considers whether it was the appropriate gesture to name him Fido as opposed to Frank or Domino or Hobbit. It is only humans that take the primal grunt, the tick tick versus the tick tock and consider it a staging place for nicknames, childish pranks. Only humans find concern with whether there is a cosmic connection between the syllables that express a uniqueness within a crowd and the soulful matter that compiles to form our innerness, our aura and spirit.

More logically, but equally as impractical, a name is a tool of legacy and bloodline, passing on the namesake’s inspiration in a single word. It is a whisper of hope and prophecy, as proud parents hope to somehow influence a child’s entrance and place in this world with a connotation or a definition found in a book entitled, “Baby Names: Setting a Spiritual Path for your Child to Come.” It is both a self classifying system of evolution and geneology and a subtle attempt to place a piece of our own witty thought on the world. Naming a child is an incredibly stressful moment in a persons life (so I would guess). As personal philosophy tears at whimsy and superstition, all while compromising with the strange and peculiar logics of another persons love for Stevie Nicks or the color purple. Two people come together bring their traditions and notions of naming a child.

The art of naming children is cultural. The western world, descendant’s of European blood tend to have the “last name,” the ”appellido" that accentuates the sheer sexual prowess and fortitude of one man named Lopez or Smith. Similarly, eastern cultures pass on the names but with the name in the front. The eastern world tends to be more poetic in its original name of descendent but in the end, the rules of ancestry still apply. Some cultures, like the Portuguese and Spanish, prefer to name children in paragraph form, complete with foot noted dates of when the village was sacked by communists. The Germanic peoples tend to be short and to the point, like only a German can. While our British people like to have names sounding as if even Shakesspeare would make fun of them for being a little too stuffy. Whatever the background, it is rare that the naming of a child is anything less than an ordeal filled with opinions and questions of another’s integrity, ubringing, or taste in music.

Usually, this process of naming a child is a function of family tradition. A common consideration for naming children is to pay homage to loved family members or familiarly heroic figures in one’s family tree. The greater the aristocracy of your lineage, the more likely you are to follow this route. It is a symbolic nod to the long practice of incest amongst the nobles for fear of tainting the great blood pool. As Easter Island has shown, such protectionism may not have been the best form of preservation. In the US, probably the more common practice is to name a child on a whim, on a song, or on a book. Like bad tattoos people pull from the strangest of places to name there children. At thirty, and with several friends and family either having children or talking about it, I find this conversation so interesting. Would be or soon to be parents consider a strange plethora of factors when naming their children. People discuss possible playground taunts; vicarious hopes and ambitions; nicknames that will actually be what the child is called but not their real name; the place of conception versus the name of the artist of the first version of the song that was the playing in the car when they first discussed having kids, and so on and so on. The results are sometimes trite and laughable, like a washed up beach volleyball player naming his son Spike. Others are simply appalling distortions of the English language like ”Urhines”.

Now this being said. Most of us have a decently common and practical name. Sure, there are a few jokes to be made here or there. The Silly Willies, the Chatty Cathies, the Sheila the Sluts. Some nicknames hang on a little too long. Prophecies rarely prevail except that every once in while a kid name Colt actually does become the quarterback for Texas. Whatever the result, like asks us, sometimes begs us to rearrange and recondition our brains to hear another calling. (Ice T dropped Cop Killer for Detective as it apparently pays better). Sometimes our profession or stage in life require us to “rename” ourselves. Like Willi to Will to sound more . . . plain? Or Will to W. R. Eilers to sound more literary? However, in the end we must remember that our names are quite simply what there were intended to be, a way for those around us to announce that their comments, hurtful, pleasant or otherwise, were directed at us. In turn, we are conditioned to respond to any and all of the possible names beaconing us to retort.


  1. Great post, W.R., nee Willie, nee Sile' Guile, nee (omitted for decor)... I can't figure out why you would be thinking of this.

    That poor child... Urhines. Oh my.

    I will name my child Maximilius Aurelius Deutoronomy Stork, after a sneeze I once had.

    And, btw, I think Colt Brannigan is an awesome name.

  2. Um, and Colt Brennan too...