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What's in a Name?
Hassan Masum, 11 Mar 05

Names are personal. Parents think long and hard about this or that option. Famous names open doors. Names are the labels by which we file our diverse social networks, and even think of ourselves.

So - where does a parent look for names in the Worldchanging spirit? By sticking with religious, spiritual, or historical figures of the past? Using a virtue or desirable quality as a name? How wise is it, anyway, to name your child according to your conception of human values - especially when that name is unusual or unique?

And what of those who make a fully conscious choice to change their names, and move out of an existing tradition? What kind of a name would embody a universalist outlook, while not seeming pretentious? What of names linked to an individual who lived the values you believe in - as the second name-holder, how much of that individual's persona would you (want to) inherit?

What do you think?

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I created my own five-day week based on the Chinese Five Elements:

TreeDay, SunDay, EarthDay, AirDay, and WaterDay

Most of the days of the seven day week have something to do with war.

If anyone wants to know more about the logic of this calendar I've been playing with (and actually attempting to live by, in part), please ask.

As for personal names, I honestly don't think it's that important, as long as you can have a good laugh with your name once in a while. Lots of names already have pretty cool meanings (eg, Joseph means "he who adds" and Willemssen means "protector of the will").

I can live with that as well as accept the gift quality of parents and family naming me.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 11 Mar 05

I honestly don't have much advice for naming. I think it would be a little odd to have a name that was attached to some value... and I have a visceral negative reaction to people who are named things like river or tree. But that reaction goes away with time. Familiarity breeds contempt for my contempt.

But it is not a concept that is foreign at all to places like China. Maybe it is partly because syllables have much richer associations. When I was studying mandarin, my choice of names was very deliberate and value driven. But that was naming myself -- sort of like more ancient traditions when people would choose their own name upon becoming an adult. Which would not be a bad tradition to reinstate IMHO.

Here is a fascinating tool names of American babies:

Posted by: adrian cotter on 11 Mar 05

Could there ever be culturally neutral naming? And what'd the fun be in that?

My wife & I named our daughter unusually; she has 6 in all, including both last names and a choice of first and middle as well.

Though none of the names are headslap obvious in that dippy hippy way, they are: a flowering sage; a desert shrub; a threatened amphiabian genera; and a lovely, very unusual European name that her great-grandfather's great-aunt last carried.

Read together, the name scans nicely, though you've got to take a great big breath to use them all at once.

I'll not lay them all out because the young lady in question is scarcely four.

Our friends tease us that she sounds like a duchess. We jest, half-seriously, that she can pick the names she wants when she has her majority. One niggling issue is that her last name seems to vary depending on which parent has filled out the form...

As for the girl, she seems unbothered by having a name that won't fit on a social security card.
Her first name sounds a lot like a "normal" American name. And then we live on the redwood coast, where half the kids in the montessori have names you've never heard before.

And then there's the twin facts of social circles. One, we've many friends who prefer a nickname to their "real" names, or got slapped with one anyway. Two, rich whities from the professional class have often nurtured oddball names, as if to prove they don't have to fit in.

At least in this part of the culture, names have exploded. But it seems to me that's just a healthy level of diversity re-emerging; think of all the wonderful names now lost. It would be really interesting to chart the evolution of names in different parts of California, for example.

Oh, and the last thing: another's due. Now do we have to come up with another four names?

Posted by: pi on 11 Mar 05

reminds me of this post on transhumanism:

"Most people want their children to look like themselves, and to some extent to think like themselves. We invest many thousands of dollars and many months of our time to acculturate our children. Now let's say your children could be one percent happier throughout their lives, but this would mean they were totally unlike you, the parent. In fact your children would be turned into highly intelligent velociraptors and flown to another planet to live among their own kind. How many of us would choose this option?"


but on the internet noone has to know you're you :D


Posted by: glory on 12 Mar 05

It seems banal, but a name carries the meaning you give to it. There was a time when the name of a thing was fundamental to what it was - to know its name was to know its nature. God’s first command to Adam in Genesis? To name the animals. We, of course, live in a more relativistic culture (largely denying that we even have a ‘nature’).
But if a name informs how we think about ourselves, then it carries enormous power; my advice for naming a child or naming oneself is to choose something that is meaningful, and has room to adapt new meanings. Otherwise, a new phase of life must be accompanied by a new name, or else a name becomes just what you’re called, nothing to do with who you are. (as was said already, renaming oneself is not a bad idea, it has a much longer history than one-name-for-life)

A worldchanging name carries worldchanging ideals within it, without assigning a path to those ideals. My own names mean ‘the just one’, ‘victory to the people’ and ’a steward.’ These have powerfully informed my life, not in who I am, but in who I strive to be; I like to think this is potential of a meaningful name. (and what is pretentious about universal ideals?)

One comment on the second name-holder: no one is second, most names have been recycled a few times; but again, one can use a quality held within a name to let that quality inform your life.
Martin Luther, Martin Luther King. Not similar by fate or chance.

Joseph, would you email me more information on your Taoist week? Thank you.

Posted by: Justus on 13 Mar 05



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