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What’s in a name?

| Friday, August 30, 2019

“What’s in a name?” Juliet asks in Shakespeare’s famous play “Romeo and Juliet.” “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

What, really, is in a name? If it’s as Juliet argues, names have little to do with what something actually is. 

I’m not sure where I stand on that one. Personally, I derive a lot of enjoyment from naming things. Sometimes, it just feels natural — a gesture of affection toward something I particularly like, maybe.

This piece from The Cut suggests we give names to things we subconsciously anthropomorphize, feel attached to or want to claim possession of. That makes sense to me. My general guidelines are: If it’s a living thing or bears semblance to a living thing (e.g., a stuffed animal), it deserves a name. And a proper one, at that. You shouldn’t settle for a just-OK name — if you hold out for that moment of inspiration, the right one will come.

If you’re wondering about my recent naming-abilities track record, there’s my four fish, each named after pianists: Alexis Weissenberg, Hans von Bülow, Carl Czerny and Marc-André Hamelin. And then there’s my plants — Joy, my Peace Lily; Mona, English Ivy; Jean-Baptiste, Ficus Bonsai; Beauregard, African Violet; and Hugh Grant, my Garden Croton.

(During my time at Notre Dame, I have also owned about a half-dozen succulents. They had names, too, but unfortunately all have since shuffled off this mortal coil.)

But I realize I still haven’t addressed the question at hand, which is, “What does it matter?” Does our name influence who we become? If you’re given a name that sounds elegant, or friendly or brave, are you more likely to be elegant, or friendly or brave?

And how does a name take on an identity in the first place? When you meet someone new, do you forever change the meaning of your name to them?

Not to say a name can only take on one meaning. Most of us share our names with many, many other people, most of them probably very different from us. I, especially, can relate to this — Notre Dame has introduced me to a frightening amount of Marys. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that I do feel very much like a Mary and my name seems inseparable from who I am, even though it’s not the name I chose for myself.

On the other hand, when our names don’t feel right to us, many go so far as to change them — Bob Dylan, Frank Ocean and Miley Cyrus are the first examples I think of. I think that only speaks louder to the importance of a good name. A good name is something we all deserve; it’s a right.

So if anyone wants help naming something (or wants to critique my naming skills), you have my email.

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

Contact Mary