What's in a name?

What’s in a name?

This phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.

Why do we have such passionate sentiments about names and what do they mean to us as human beings?

The power of a name and its value has long been understood by even culture throughout history as evidenced by the importance given in religion, art and literature.

Everyone recognizes himself or herself by name. It denotes meaning, belonging and even gives a first impression.

Try taking random name cards or look at LinkedIn profiles without any photos and you will involuntarily get a “feeling” about someone. That feeling is not backed by any hard data and could be wrong, yet that primal gut feeling will be stronger than the will to suppress it.

The thing which separates us from animals is the human mind, where we exhibit awareness and have the ability of language. With these two abilities, we have created names to identify and to express ourselves in words, numbers or other symbols to connote belonging and expression.

Imagine that two people are starting work at a law firm at the same time. The one person has a simple name. The other has a hard to remember name. Over the next 16 years of their respective careers, the person with the simple name will rise up the corporate ladder faster.

By about 8-9 years after being admitted to the bar, the people with simpler names are about 7-10% more likely to be partners – which is a massive advantage. Reference:

In the Judeo Christian tradition, names play a central role in connoting meaning. Take for example, Abraham and Sarah. Not many know, their original names were Abram and Sarai. Abram & Sarai were getting old when God promised Abram that he would be the father of multitude.

God cemented the deal when he told Abram that he would no longer be called Abram but would be called Abraham, a new name that was fitting. Abraham means “father of a multitude”.

God also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah and promised that he would bless Sarah and she would have a son. This goes back to the fact that Humans “feel” that names have predictive and determinative powers.

Of course, as the story goes, the names of their children after them eventually became the famous tribes of Israel, which was not simply individual meaning but group belonging and provenance. This has carried on until the modern day without break. E.g; Levi, Judah, Reuben etc.

So in answering Juliet’s question and evidenced in the tragic ending of Romeo & Juliet. What is in a name? Everything, my dear.


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