So What’s In A Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Sorry Juliet, but I am going to have to disagree with you there. Had Shakespeare never made the namesake of his tragic love story a Romeo, then the romantic label of the star-crossed lover would have passed to a different name. So what am I trying to say? Names are important. They are emotional associations that enable us to create connections with seemingly distant individuals and objects. That’s why people name their cars and their pets, because it isn’t any old dog or Fiesta, it is theirs.

Katie Hopkins has been getting all kinds of flack over the last week due to her comments on the This Morning programme, as seen in the clip above. I think it is mostly because she is an attention-seeking shrew, but I am going to defend her point. No, no, not in the way you are thinking. I am going to draw your attention to how important a name is in the grand scheme of things, with the help of some Freakonomics. I fear many of you will start to unravel this story before I finish telling it.

Why do parents agonise over a name? Why do authors make millions publishing books of baby names? The answer is extremely simple. A name can be (not always mind) a reflection of your social standing, upbringing, heritage, ethnicity and much more. It is a window for someone to peer into your personality without even looking at your face. Whether these first impressions are false or true, they are made regardless. When you read the names Bob, Chardonnay, La’quiesha, Suresh or Mohammed they will conjure up an image, a stereotype that is then difficult to shirk off, unless that individual does something to break your mould.

So what do you do if your name reflects a stereotype? Create one. Recently, not only in celebrity circles, but closer to home, couples have chosen more obscure, unusual names in order to give their child the ‘edge’. Although this is a double-edged sword. It opens up the child to ridicule, intrigue and above all obscurity if it is ill chosen. Harper 7 is a notable example – although the Beckham bit on the end should help. But as a child gets older, that name becomes more an emblem of their individuality, their calling card which helps them stand out from the faceless mass of the growing population. But does a person want to stand out because they have an alternative name or because of something else? That is the eternal question.

Regardless of what you think of Hopkins, she has a point. We judge by names, even if we don’t mean to, for those of us gutsy enough to admit it. She did not put it as eloquently as this because she is, to put it mildly, an idiot. But don’t let that deter you from understanding the gravitas of the point that she couldn’t make. And if you still don’t believe me, check this out. Just because it is not the rational answer, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. We would all do well to remember that.

2 Comments

  1. joeprince9 8th July 2013 at 22:34

    Yes names matter, but they shouldn’t matter. By going on TV and talking about this, she is only encouraging this idea. By agreeing with her in any sense, YOU are only encouraging this idea. In my opinion, this is literally as bad as racism. It is prejudice and actually results in (as shown in freakonomics) not only diminished social standing but diminished job prospects. If we all agree names don’t matter, then of course they won’t matter. As with most activism, we’ll be forced to adapt as the social situation changes, particularly in light of migration patterns and social diversity. I really think the only acceptable way to deal with this problem is not to concede any ground to Hopkins. She has a point that names currently matter in society, but her main point is that she is SUPPORTING their importance in society, by actively applying the idea herself. Surely the only respectable response would be to acknowledge that names matter today in some instances, but to forcefully disagree that they SHOULD matter at all so that they do not matter tomorrow. So I’ll kick it off: in direct reply to you, what she said IS necessarily wrong.

    1. hiran1 9th July 2013 at 20:09

      First of all, names do matter. Purely on the basis that you need one so that people know who you are, and you know who you are – they serve a rudimentary purpose. I don’t think that by saying names matter I am as bad as a racist. We just have to be careful as to how we interpret them as this as a whole changes over time. Names such as Robert start off with the higher social classes and then are copied and shortened (Bob, Bobby etc) by the lower classes over time until they become usuable – this is a fact and something that we must all deal with. It is the osmosis effect. Hopkins point is at the other end of the spectrum where she actively vets children based on this osmosis effect which I also, like you, believe is idiotic as a name is only an insight and nothing more. If we don’t concede any ground, there is no room for healthy debate so we have to understand things from her point of view, however warped it may be. Names should matter because they are individual labels that we use to define ourselves. They are necessary and important – even if they are open to interpretation by others. She may have approached the argument in a provocative manner, but she is not wholly wrong, just off track.

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