The Power of Naming

Names. Names have power. This is a old concept, much scoffed at in the present-day.

When I was born, my father was overjoyed to call himself “dad.” Fast forward a quarter century, and he’s still dad. But when I need to get his attention, I call him Jim. He’s been Jim a lot longer, after all. I daresay he likes to hear ‘Dad’ more, though.

Another type of naming is labelling. When you say, “I’m a lapsed Catholic”, or “I scare off all the men I date”, or “I’m a failure,” those words define that aspect of you. And unless you consciously correct it at some point, it defines you forever.

The Duality of Words

The reason names have power is that they’re divisive. A cup is only an object with a hollow that will hold liquid, but when it becomes a cup, it stops being anything else. Strangely, though, even when the cup is broken, it remains a cup. Why?

This is the illusory nature of words.

In my practice, I particularly despise labels that go by disease names, or psychological profiles, like “enabler,” “saboteur,” or “victim.” Once they attach to your psyche, you dance like a puppet in that role. Everything begins to revolve around and inform that role.

I feel deeply uncomfortable when people ask about my head injury. It doesn’t define me. I hardly ever think about it, in fact, I only really think about it when I’m trying to illustrate some idea or concept with it. When I do share, people find it very inspiring. I’m fine with people finding inspiration in it, but don’t use it to define me. That’s not how I want to be named.

There’s a story about a group of monks who, while on pilgrimage came upon a river and had no way across. They were stymied until one of their number found a boat in the rushes. The monks rowed across the river and prepared to carry on. But one of the monks tried to pick up the boat, and take it with him.

“Why are you burdening yourself in this way?” they asked.

“Because it was so useful! We might need it again.”

That’s what names do. They are so useful, sometimes only for a moment, but eventually, they become a useless burden on you.

What burdens are you carrying? Which ones are actually useful? True or false, they’re all limiting, and all a burden.

Please share this if you thought it was interesting or useful. Thanks!


5 thoughts on “The Power of Naming”

  1. Oh, so YESSSS!!

    My friend Gail says something that brings ^this^ right out front: “I refuse to Claim that!” – whenever someone is worst-casing at her – names, labels, predictions, whatever.

    There are so many ways / words (or sentence constructions! “me = language geek”, yaknow!) to use /choose to talk about a given thing, situation, emotion or possibility, that there’s usually no real, good reason to use the harshest, most negative ones except by default or habit.

    Many great points, this week – yay!

    1. Thanks Karen! The interesting thing is, it doesn’t even have to be negative for it to be limiting. Saying “I’m a creative” whatever that means to you, simultaneously blocks out whatever you perceive to be *not* creative– even if it isn’t true. Names are short hand, for clarity’s sake, but they can be equally misleading

      1. Good point, about words ‘limiting’ even if they’re *not* negative.

        There are times and places where one needs to ‘pick one’, though, in order to move in any direction. When one doesn’t remember that you can change your choice (by changing the words you use) is when you get stuck.

        I’ve found that allowing that I have “tendencies toward attention differences” instead of “I have Attention Deficit Disorders” has allowed me to re-notice and re-examine how I feel and do things, that may not fit some norm, but work for me. And how I can change those ways, and enjoy more of my days (and get more done, most days)!

        (catching up after a week of broken computer ~ 🙂 )

      2. Yeah, think that’s why the boat is such a good analogy. It’s useful for a time. But just remember to stop and assess regularly whether it IS still useful to you

      3. Yeah – it’s the confluence of “permission to change your mind” and “be mindful of your words”!

        Hmmmm – sounds like a ‘niche’ is developing here, doesn’t it?

        Happy Spring-ish Saturday (at least in Chicago!)

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