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31 March, 2005
“What’s in a name.” Shakespeare remarked, adding” A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. For once, I disagree with the Bard. A rose by any other name would not, to me at any rate, “smell as Sweet”! The name of the rose has been used in many instances to covey numerous meanings. Sub rosa means a secret transaction. The rose is a mystic symbol. It has a specific allusion to the female. It has a special meaning in Christianity. Metaphysical poets have constantly resorted to the mysterious rose to emphasise a devout emotion. How beautiful its fragrance, and how vulnerable to vulgarity that fragrance is. “Any nose can, with impunity, ravage a rose”, Robert Browning declared, with some asperity.
What’s in a name? everything! Could one, for example, contemplate a cabbage poetically, with rapture? And could one ever say to fair damsel : “Thy lips remind me of the green petals of a cabbage”? a hundred times No!
‘Names are part of a system, and are therefore of paramount importance. But sometimes they can be misused, or we can be guilty of a misnomer. Names, like words, must be chosen with care, and made to apply aptly. Names can be descriptive. For example, a friend of mine attended a seminar, and was not quite sure what he was expected to do. He was given a badge to wear which proclaimed him a “Discussant”, so he was obliged to take part in a discussion, the subject of which he knew nothing about. At group meetings and workshops, badges play an important part in identifying notables. President secretary, Member of Reception Committee, and so on. What about special badges for our good old friend, the Interrupter? Or, one in warming red for Bore!
There were other participants in the same seminar with intriguing badge names : such as the “Facilitator”. I wonder what exactly he facilitates? And the “Resource person” must have been better described in the past Still, new names may have a new significance.
We come now to name dropping, a device employed by a person who wishes to stress his own importance through association with a celebrity. A prime minister’s name may casually be mentioned in an unlikely conversation, with “of course we’ve been friends for years”, and you are meant to get the impression that government policy hinges on exchanges between those bosom friends. Name dropping of this kind is harmless compared with downright abuse of mere acquaintanceship for dubious purposes.
Finally, there is the “calling of names”. You may call so-and-so a such-and-such, sometimes adding : “No offence meant, of course!” but offence is always intended. I have come in for a fair share of this kind of personal attack, especially after I stared writing these essays. I wondered what sort of names were selected. I think I could have endured any unprintable name in existence, but a very well-meaning friend informed me that I had somewhere been described as an Imitator! I have always regarded myself as being somewhat unique. This was therefore ‘the unkindest cut of all’. Still, I suppose we must all carry on regardless, keeping well in mind the adage : Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me!
6 March, 1992.