Naming

The art of naming, I am led to believe, is primarily a human trait. The revelation I read and try to follow, the Qur’an, talks about how God taught Adam the names of all things. (2:118)  Naming is a very big deal because it is the foundation of a vocabulary and as a result, the foundation of language. It involves observing the features of objects and also phenomena and then labelling it. It includes knowing how things are similar to other things, which things form part of a set, which form part of a subset and how things are different from each other. It’s also a source of great sorrow, misfortune and chaos when things are misnamed. 

Naming isn’t just a function of language

People may think, what difference does it make when you call something a chair or a desk? Why should it matter whether you call a pen a pencil or pencil a pen? When we refer to an object outside of a context it might seem trivial. When examination instructions say, “color in the bubbles using a pencil” you might very well fail the entire exam if you use a pen. In an emergency, it helps to say that the flash light can be found on the desk and not, “It can be found on that flat surface with pieces of wood on the side and is about waist height, which is not used for sitting on.” Naming in this case is a function of shortcuts, labelling things that are commonly used and therefore commonly referred to so that one does not have to go through the process of describing things over and over. It’s also a function of knowing the difference between things in processing data and making decisions based on the information received. In other words, naming is a function of accuracy, which leads to success or failure.

Naming involves discrimination 

We often use the word discrimination pejoratively because in the currently dominant discourse it is seen as evil within itself. Here is where we cross dangerous threads and where we take back our civilization to the Dark Ages. Ironically, there’s a lot in common between anti naming and anti science, o anti data approaches to society and even politics. The initial need to push against Christendom in the renaissance by dethroning the clergy who viewed rational inquiry and scientism as evil, has re-emerged. This time, the clergy are not the ones being opposed, rather there is a new religion on the block. I call it, ‘the feel good’ religion. It’s the religion in which nothing uncomfortable which might hurt the feelings of selected people should ever be discussed. These selected people are those viewed as perpetual victims. They include; women, and minorities. It’s perfectly fine to be critical of men, rich people, and leaders, but it’s not fine to be critical of anyone else. When a man sexualizes a woman, it’s toxic. When a woman sexualizes a man, it’s cute. When a rich person criticises a poor person for being lazy, it’s prejudice, when a poor person criticizes a rich person for being greedy, it’s social justice.

An equal society, or misnaming? 

 In our attempt to create an ‘equal society” what we’ve done instead is to name things as equal that really aren’t. When you refuse to give a medal to the fastest runner because ‘everyone’s a winner’ you rob the winner of his victory. Nature is inherently competitive and unforgiving. In trying to cushion entire populations against the harshness of reality we’ve created a disjoint in the fundamental rational faculties of societies and thereby in fact broken people. We are essentially telling people that there’s never a need to confront reality because reality is too harsh. We hold to notions of right and wrong and then say, “the world doesn’t make sense” or “the world is unfair!” We have an entire generation gassed up on an ideology of how things ‘ought’ to be and then we wonder why there is chronic depression and an increase in mental disorders. Increasingly more people ‘feel’ that everything is all wrong and that they are inherently oppressed. Rarely do people ‘feel’ that they ‘reap what they sow.’ It is done unto them. They aren’t the actors in their own lives, rather they are the victims of ‘the system..’ Then in some bizarre attempt towards ‘equality’ everyone is required to use the ‘appropriate’ language. 

Call a spade a spade, and get it wrong

Long after I’m dead, people are going to say that I was right. They aren’t going to say that now. Right now they’ll mostly hate what I say. The point is, it doesn’t matter how annoyed people are by my ‘calling a spade a spade’ it sows a seed in the mind of the rejecting recipient. It forces the opposition, those who are drinking the kool-aid, to think that just maybe they need to put the bottle down for a day and apply their own minds. Ask yourself how things work in the world you live and work with what you know. Say what you think and have others disagree with you. Rather be rectified then cowed into silence, silently believing your own crap and never being challenged. Add to social cohesion by being part of society, not silently sitting in your corner quietly being racist (or anything else). 

Further Reading:

https://www.simplypsychology.org/language.html

https://www.pnas.org/content/98/23/12874

4 Comments

  1. Naming is also the terrain for struggles for power. People who are oppressed or denigrated get named in hurtful and untruthful ways. Renaming and relabeling things is a way of creating justice and taking back one’s power. Sometimes the old words are the lies. The new words can sometimes be closer to truth. Or at least give a person a space to stand and room to exist where before there was none.

    1. Thanks for that thoughtful comment Alex. Certainly naming can be the terrain for power struggles. Renaming can be a step in the right direction if coupled with changing the paradigm against which the old names functioned. The thing behind the name has to change also, not just the name for the thing. One way we can start collectively edging closer to the truth is if we call things the way we see it. It might never be objectively true, but if enough people are brutally honest with themselves and others, we certainly will have more to work with, more to rally around and more to progress with together. The opposite is also true. The story of the emperor’s new clothes comes to mind. No one could say that he was naked and everyone pretended that his new clothes were amazing. Meanwhile, they knew he really had nothing on.

  2. Yes. What say makes sense; I can identify with it.
    We have a long history suppression of speech.

    1. Suppression of speech is definitely one factor that retards progress. Misnaming is also about shutting people up. If you mislabel their discourses, they can’t be heard by anyone. That’s a good observation.

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