Over the course of this week I have been reading a novel loaned to me by a friend (review forthcoming), and one of the aspects of the novel that I have been paying attention to is the way that this friend gave a name from this book to one of his offspring as a middle name. It is a hard thing to live under the weight of being named after something. To be sure, not everyone is aware of this weight. Not everyone has the same thoughts that I do about the seriousness of the names one has been given and their meanings. For those people who are given weighty names but do not feel their weight, I have complicated feelings. Be that as it may, not only am I aware of the weight of the names that I carry but also tend to be sensitive about the names that other people carry.
The naming of things is something that becomes increasingly difficult when one needs to pick original names. Some people ascribe to themselves identities that they cannot possibly fulfill. One hip hop group, for example, made a song that compared themselves to Black Beatles, when in reality they were more like the Black Herman’s Hermits. The Beatles, as a group, had 20 #1 hits and the group that claimed to be like them ended up with two before going on hiatus with only one of their members able to make a successful solo career out of it by singing hooks for a wide variety of acts. As a general rule, comparing yourself to the Beatles has tended not to work well for artists, given that it sets a high bar of both commercial appeal and artistic merit that few people’s works can bear, not least when they are still towards the beginning of their career arcs. Still other groups avoid that altogether by picking names that have no gravity to them whatsoever and creating a career that is worthy of emulation and appreciation–as was the case, for example, for Toad The Wet Sprocket, who named themselves after a Monty Python skit whose point was that no one would give themselves a band name that stupid. They were, of course, wrong.
It is not only musical bands or people in families that give themselves a terrible burden when it comes to names to bear, but also nations. Most often this burden is freely chosen. Many a nation around the world refers to itself as “people,” placing upon its shoulders the burden of representing humanity, while simultaneously denying the humanity of other groups. Other nations call back to past glories, which only increase the dissatisfaction of people who compare the present with the past and hold the present in contempt because of the failures of leaders to bring a nation back to previous high points. Still other nations saddle themselves with names that they cannot possibly fulfill because their performance mocks their hopes and expectations. Such is the way of humanity, though.