The Doctor Is In

in Poetry

Dr. Wes

What's in a Name?

Today I want to use words to talk about names. What’s in a name? Willy Shakespeare (sp?) answered with something to the effect that a rose by any other name would smell as swell. A lot of people think that’s the ultimate answer.

Balderdash! In the first place, the question was, "What’s in a name?" -- not "What’s a rose?" In another place, Willy himself knew perfectly well there was more to it than that. He went right on ahead in the same play to make a case for the opposition. He clearly indicated that he was inclined to believe that, while sweet smelliness sticks permanently to roses however named, if a Romeo Montague were to change his name to, say, Watson Whittaker, he’d get beat up by his cousins whether he married that girl or not. Names do so matter.

It has been demonstrated scientifically that even when collected into conferences and given little individual cards to pin on their shirts, and an indelible marker, scientists can’t completely explain why names, such as "Montague," are different from words, such as "rose." But I believe the answer may involve the reptilian brain, the difference between the sacred and the profane, and Dicks Nixon, Clark, Cheney, etc.

Whatever the difference, it is now known that there is one. If your first pet dog was Blacky and you go around calling all dogs Blacky, people will call you Dingy. And rightly so.

Once we understand that names and words are different, we begin to understand why people might like to change names on occasion. For example might want to change its name to or or, on the theory that people might forget that unfortunate NASDAQ turn of events.

What the hell is a Verizon? When you ask that kind of question you betray ignorance of the difference I am picking at. Verizon is just the new improved name of GTE, a name that escapes all the ugly associations that the old name has, like the association that everybody had learned to think "corporate weasels" when they heard "GTE". But you don’t think "corporate weasels" when you hear "Verizon." Not yet. Instead you think, "What the hell is a Verizon?"

Similarly, the name US West served the function of a name, not a word. It helped the rest of us to identify that specific thing that screwed up our phone billing all the time. If the internet connection went down exactly in the middle of our composing of our 500 page treatise on the relationship of the fluctuations in the perfume market to the practice of personal bathing in Europe, we could relieve our tension by uttering a curse upon the house of US West, a particular corporation, a legal body, near-person, and receptacle of a name.

US West heard those curses. That’s why they are no longer US West, but the as yet not-so-cursed Qwest.

Here we arrive at a crucial distinction between names and words. Names can be cursed. Names accumulate curses. Names attach to persons and to entities perceived as persons, and they collect the feelings we have for those entities.

How cursed can a name become? Ask Seattle Housing Authority. But don’t call them that when you ask them. Call them PorchLight. Or don’t ask them. Ask anybody else. Typical reaction to hearing the name "Seattle Housing Authority" -- "Boo." Typical reaction to hearing the name "PorchLight" -- "Huh?"

It’s part of the American Way. The accursed change their names and they expect everyone to forget the old names. And we do, because we want to reserve the same right for ourselves. We want to be able to declare bankruptcy if necessary, change the name, get all new credit cards, move to the next great "growth center" (it’s Houston, the last I heard) and start a new career, or as we put it, "make a new life for ourselves."

It’s only possible if everyone agrees to let it be possible. So it has to be part of the social contract.

What I’m getting at is, some day I could put Copyright Doctor Wes Browning away and start calling myself something like Flash Weston or the Artist Formerly Known as Wes, and this being America I could probably pull it off, even without incorporating. And rightly so.


© Dr. Wes Browning:

2129 Second Ave., Seattle, WA 98121 (206) 441-3247

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