Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Bear by Any Other Name

In Anne of Green Gables, Anne says: “I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I've never been able to believe it. I don't believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.” And she’s right on an emotional level. Names help give us identities; hearing that a ten-year-old girl’s name is Brittany or Barbara or Banana all give me different mental pictures (whether true or not), assumptions are made. I think that’s probably why naming anything seems like a daunting task to me, because it feels like giving different names will help create different identities.

I recall having this naming quandary when I was about seven or eight years old and I got a big gray stuffed bear as a birthday present. The inevitable question everyone asked was, “What’s its name?” And I replied, “I don’t know. I have to think about it.” I didn’t want to name my bear anything that was too obvious, like Smokey. I struggled in naming my bear because I wanted it to be special and fitting. So until I could figure out what her name was going to be, I gave her a temporary name: Bear-Bear. It wasn’t creative at all, but I thought I could come up with a better name eventually. [Pause.] It was a temporary name that quickly became permanent.

On a following birthday, I got a big stuffed panda as a birthday present. Instead of thinking of a unique name, I instantly named her Pan-Pan (short for Panda-Panda). I had already set the precedent in naming stuffed animals for exactly what they were, and I was too lazy to figure out anything better. And my brother followed this naming convention when I gave him a small stuffed zebra as a present, naming him Zeb-Zeb (short for Zebra-Zebra).

Perhaps it seems silly to worry about giving a stuffed animal an interesting name (as it’s just a stuffed animal), but really it’s a reflection of the fact that names matter. Names stick with you and it becomes a part of who you are, just as I never could change Bear-Bear’s name to anything else because she was Bear-Bear.

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