“What’s in a name. . .”

22 Dec

. . .That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet,” the young girl cast as Juliet bellowed from the crest of her makeshift castle. Under the twinkling stars of the Dallas summer sky hovering above the amphitheater, Shakespeare’s words resounded in timeless beauty and grace.

But were they true?

If a rose was instead called a dandelion, and a dandelion a rose, would the essence of each flower change?  Would that which we call a rose suddenly shift in color or suddenly be categorized as a weed?  Would that which we call a dandelion suddenly become more attractive and popular and coveted simply because of its renaming?

A name is simply a label, a neutral, arbitrary word that bears little meaning in and of itself.  Its value lies in association, in the perception of the item it describes and defines.

Of course, the plight in the tragic love tale of Romeo and Juliet is not over flowers: It’s over names and their assigned meanings.  Ironic isn’t it? A play whose entire premise is on the dire importance of family names and backgrounds is known to the masses by the first names of its ill-fated characters.  Romeo and Juliet.   First names only.  The play’s  title removes the constraints of origin, status and tradition from the equation—symbolically allowing the young lovers the freedom that they were so fatally denied in the actual production.

The effect?   The couple’s plight becomes universal, one that could plague any ordinary boy or girl whose actions are deemed unfit because of circumstances beyond their control.  By naming the play “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare eagerly mocks the assigned importance of these arbitrary surnames that are the source of the play’s tragedy.

Montague and Capulet, the representations of the attachments of society, are removed postmortem.

Surnames were acquired in a variety of ways.  Some were given due to the physical characteristics of its originator.  Brown, White, Black, Big, and Small are examples.  Others were awarded based on the location of the recipient: Hill, Brook, River, Meadows represent these.  More were given simply by the identity of the father: Robertson, Anderson, Henderson, Johnson all were contracted from the names of the father Robert, Anders, Hender, and John.  Most names were acquired according to a person’s trade: Cooks, Smith, Baker, Miller are great examples.

This allotment of surnames, as in the case of Romeo and Juliet, surrenders its recipients to the mercy of fate.


Perhaps, that’s why parents spend so much time musing over the name that will precede the attachment.

This little taste of power lends them a bit of control, the sense that they, through creating the child’s identity, helped define and shape its future.  Funny how, when bestowed with the power to break with the reins of tradition, so many settle for names that have been perpetually recycled throughout history.

This decision to select names for offspring that have been used as labels for countless other boys and girls goes against the very logic of naming.  Is not one’s name to serve as a unique identifier, something that solely defines one thing or person?  A sea of Ashleys, Brians, Martins, and Tiffanys, a tribe of Marias and Joses, clan of Rachels and Adams, and a batchful of Keishas and Jamals seems redundant and ineffective.

It’s the Kleenex-syndrome.  A case of a specific label and identifier becoming the general name for all things  similar.  Such names reveal little more than the gender and possible ethnicity of its holder.

Even African-Americans, with our noted knack  for comprising names are not exempt. Children’s names may appear to be composed from the random letters of a Scrabble hand or Boggle board,  but there is a pattern in its composition:  As poet Rita Dove observes, , “they choose for their [child] a name that would stand out, a name suited for the special fate awaiting the child, their contribution to history. . .”

We are not alone.  I stumbled across this article entitled, “What’s in a (Utah) Name?, while researching info for this post.  Apparently, Mormons are equally creative.

Ironically, that quest for uniqueness creates a tradition and pattern and group in and of itself.  In the quest for uniqueness, for difference and identity, they make their child simply another complicated name.





The  naming of a child is something to which all parents give pause-a responsibility that many equate with the eventual success or failure of the named.  That success is defined–in most circles, by people labeled generically, commodified so as not to wrinkle the nose of a teacher or raise the brow of the interviewer says ample about the society in which we live–one where we are expected to be normal, not stand out too much, fall into place, only a certain amount of weirdness or oddity is encouraged.

“What’s in a name?” He who is called by another name remains the same.  Changing a label does not alter the contents within.

Or does it?  According to an article in the BBC Focus Magazine, first names play a significant role in the success of an individual academically, professionally and personally.  A post by LiveScience echoes such findings, suggesting that unique names render children less likely to function in society.  A  study from Shippensburg University went as far as to link uncommon first names with juvenile crimes.


Perhaps that’s why so many settle for proven names, tried, true, recycled and evident throughout the ranks of society.

I’m not convinced. Because my name is LaShonda, I have the odds stacked against me?  But because  my last name begins with “C,” my relative success in academia was pre-destined?  I find such studies. . .interesting.

Whatever the case, I know that my child’s name will not be defined by its societal acceptance.  Success is determined by the individual’s ability to create the circumstances he or she wants, not by the label one is gifted at birth.

Until next time.


3 Responses to ““What’s in a name. . .””

  1. FlowerGuy January 6, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    Hey, great post. Great blog. It is clean and to the point. I have bookmarked it for future reading. You know it is rare to find quality content on these things…


  2. Donald Helmbright January 9, 2011 at 5:36 am #

    Good website! I actually love how it is easy on my eyes as well as the details are well composed. I am wondering how I might be notified whenever a new post was been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which really should work! Have a good day!



  1. Mice & Men | The Re-Education of LaShonda - June 17, 2013

    […] to a girl working nearby. She didn’t raise an eyebrow and simply handed me Blackman’s (ironic namesake) “Noughts and Crosses,” a book that does what Disney and that episode of Twilight did on screen […]


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