What’s in a Name?
With few exceptions, cultures across the world have for a long time accepted and encouraged the ritual of changing a woman’s last name upon marriage. Even within this country, there are communities that don’t give a girl any last name at all, as she would have to change it upon marriage anyway. Such women are raised for most of their young lives with only one half of their identity, waiting for their wedding day to be fully recognised as a complete person, to have a complete name.
There are various arguments and counter-arguments for or against this practice. Feminists might call this a symbol of the male proprietorship of women in patriarchal societies. While according to traditionalists, it might be merely a way of holding the family together, of fostering unity between husband and wife and giving the children a stable sense of family and identity.
An Objective View:
From the point of view of a casual observer, it might seem like we were making a mountain out of a molehill. After all, it’s just a name, isn’t it? And as Shakespeare has famously said, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. What does it matter what you are called, as long as you are loved and respected by those that call?
From a perfectly objective point of view, this is a perfectly valid argument. The problem is, however, that humans weren’t made to be perfectly objective creatures. We are emotional, irrational beings; beings that get irrationally, yet viscerally attached to abstract concepts and ideas that have little significance in the physical world, but can make or break our fragile hearts.
After all, why else would soldiers risk their lives for randomly drawn lines on a map, or saints and mystics devote their lives to the worship of an invisible God? Our name, like our nationality or beliefs, forms an intrinsic part of our identity, that intangible yet very real thing that we call ‘I’. A name is the thing with which we associate all that is within us, our nature, personality, dreams, desires and beliefs…all of this and more is what we mean when we call someone by their name. A human being in his or her entirety, good and bad, all encompassed in those few little words that should have meant nothing otherwise.
A Subjective View:
‘Adolf Hitler’ and ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ are just a couple of random words placed side by side, yet in our minds they are much more than that. They conjure up images of two completely different minds, symbols of thoughts and ideas so intrinsically different from one another that they might as well belong to two separate worlds.
Our names denote who we are, so in other words, can it be said that we are our names? I think not. There is yet some truth in those words – ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. The basic essence of a mind would remain the same, regardless of what name the body is called.
The Question of Self-Determination:
Yet, the question arises, would the rose want to be called by any other name? Would the phantom perfume of the flower in full bloom touch our imaginations every time we heard the name spoken, if it were called anything other than the rose?
Perhaps it would, perhaps it wouldn’t. We couldn’t know. And if at some point, the rose wanted to give itself a change of name, I suppose the possibility could be entertained.
But should it be forced into making such a change by the demands of archaic traditions that don’t really serve any practical purpose in the modern world? I think we can all agree that it should not.
A change of name is much like a change of faith – to do or not to do it is best left to the discretion of the individual concerned. Society should never forcefully tell someone what they should believe in, and what they should not. And it should not force anyone to change their identity against their will.
After all, the rose is beautiful just the way it is, name and all.