Sine nomine

Without names, life as we know it would be impossible. If your friends didn’t have names how would you organise their numbers in your phone? E-mail addresses would almost all be meaningless alpha-numeric strings and you’d have great difficulty talking to someone about a third-party not present at the time. Of course on the plus side it would pretty much kill bitchy conversations; there’s no point talking behind someone’s back if the person you’re talking to doesn’t know who’s being talked about.

So we can’t do without names. But I’m not sure I like that a person is usually expected to keep the same name all their life. Of course a person can change their name but then they’re expected to keep that new name. Someone who changed their name every year would be most unusual, even alarming, but why shouldn’t a person re-name themselves regularly? If someone has lived to 100 they have most likely used the same name for a century. How much they must have changed in the course of their life and yet others call them by the same name as they used when they were babies.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter what people call you, but in this disposable society people change so much that doesn’t matter. If it’s important to people to keep their wardrobe in fashion and to change their hair or eye colour, why not update names as well?

If people did swap names as often as they redecorated their homes official records would be impossible to keep. Birth, marriage and death certificates wouldn’t mean much and immigration and passport control would be very difficult. All official records would need to be identified by DNA or fingerprints, but aren’t we heading towards that anyway?

I’m not suggesting that we all abandon our names but I’d be surprised if there are many people who love their name all of their lives and in a world where people are constantly reinventing themselves I find it surprising how few people change their names.


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