What’s in a Name

I must confess a certain amount of distaste for naming inanimate objects. People name all kinds of things that cannot breathe or move, from copiers to computers, from musical instruments to boats. It’s another example of how our language can shape our perspective of reality, and in this case, pervert it.

It may seem harmless to name your car or boat, but we often forget the significance of naming. The Christian and Jewish traditions worship a God whose name is unutterable because in one sense, to name something is to have some measure of control or ownership over it. Adam is given the chore of naming the animals because he will have dominion over them. God cannot be named or fully comprehended. Our very faith narrative reminds us that God takes names seriously. The Bible is full of naming stories and anecdotes, from names of places based on something significant to names of people, in some sense prophesying what their life is to be (Jacob “the one who supplants” becomes Israel, “one who wrestles with God, the names of Hosea’s children are all curses or blessings of one kind or another, etc).

Aside from the mere fact that naming in the Christian tradition carries with it weight and significance for a person’s life, there are other deeper issues. Naming something reflects our relationship with it, and when we name a car, we are letting other people know that this car is as important to us as a human life. Cars, like most expensive things we own, easily become something we’re overly attached to, afraid to leave it alone for fear of theft, always afraid of it breaking or getting lost. Naming material possessions shows that our things have become idols.

I know that most people name their cars or other things in jest, not in any way attempting to equate them with life, but I am a firm believer that our language is important. But, were it not for one other serious issue, I’d be far less critical.

I’m especially critical of naming cars/vehicles because most of the time they are gendered female. Cars have become sex symbols, where the prestige of owning a stylish sports car increases a person’s status and desirability. Cars are marketed to men in magazines that are more akin to pornography than hobby. No surprise then that men often refer to their cars as female because the two are interchangeable objects of lust. But just as easily as cars become female, women become objects and indeed that is how men are conditioned to view them.

The sex trade is the perfect outgrowth of this it/she conflation. Women’s (and sometimes men’s) bodies are traded as commodities, another cog in the economic wheel. If men are prepared to treat their cars like women, why not treat women like cars?

My point here is that language shapes us in ways that we are not conscious of at all times. As I said in my previous post, there is profound reason why the Word became flesh and I believe that part of that reason is related to the way our language molds us and our perspective on the world.

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One comment

  1. Oohina · February 9, 2012

    interesting points, señor. i, too, have been giving thought to importance of names in the bible and what that means to us today.

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