The Power of Names


The power of a name resides in the power of perception, and what is unsaid behind the label, such as attitudes, beliefs, and impressions affect the impact it will have upon others, Both individuals and society as a whole project certain attributes to specific names everywhere. Archetypes are reinforced by our tendencies to want to categorize people and type them, and a name can hold many unsaid meanings behind it. Names that are very well known show the extremes of this behavior through the lens of societal thinking.

I find the public eye and the concepts of celebrity and fame to be frankly fascinating. The way society relates and reacts to certain individuals is so interesting to me because it is such a mirror into the way people think and behave on a large scale. Fame seems to be one of the ultimate desires for many, but its burdens are heavy and the gifts can turn to curses quite quickly.

The public may salivate over spreads detailing the million and billion dollar homes that some of the richest in the country own,but do not consider those houses may be considered fortresses to protect their owners from the incessant paparazzi just waiting to get a glimpse of a someone, who would be able to own their image in an ideal world, to sell to the same magazines that just reported all those real estate facts.

In most cases, the masses that worship the famous are focused on a version of that individual that probably has not much to do with how they are as a person. Just refer to Stephen King’s Misery. Or Stephen King himself. Anyone with a name that has power behind it doesn’t necessarily own that name anymore, nor dictate what it means. Any efforts on the part of the subject to alter this definition will only succeed if met with public approval. Hence those who “act out” against their public image.

Power of a name is often exemplified throughout history for the infamous. However, similar to a game of telephone played by adolescents, information passed around tends to change and warp over time. The people who sported those powerful names live on in the minds of others not as individuals, but rather as particular images or sets of ideas that define the understanding of those few men and women.

Wars have been fought and people killed for names. Crusades in the name of Jesus. Jesus, who originally was known as Yehoshua, and taught love and acceptance. The power of a name can be changed in translation, to be sure. A name becomes larger than life and reality. The more we ascribe our own perceptions to a name, the more it becomes a reflection of something we feel or believe to be true.

In practical applications: Hitler’s name is widely used as a synonym to evil around the world. Our attribution to him being this absolute, terrible person is really a projection of our belief we hold as a people that this type of evil exists in the world. In reality, Adolf Hitler existed a long time ago, and we can never really know what it would be like to hold a conversation with the man. Many acts have been contributed to his name and the connotations behind those acts reflect into the power behind the name. As J.K. Rowling wisely said in Harry Potter, fear of a name only serves to increase fear of the thing itself. It is the idea that evil exists that the name Hitler carries such a stigma. That names like that need no translation only proves the effect of this phenomena.

Every name contains a story behind it. Without that story, that context to anchor itself in our memory, names would be meaningless. Maybe that is so hard for people to see Miley Cyrus as an adult and Justin Beiber as a serious artist. Our initial story we have for that name is very fixed in our minds, and new associations that don’t agree with those anchors are usually disposed of. We watched Hannah Montana grow up on television, of course we see her as a silly teenager still. It takes time and diligent action, and PR reps, to change the meaning of a name once it has been in the public mind.

So names are powerful, but in different ways than we might think. At the end of the day, all that should matter is how you perceive yourself to be, including your own name. The way you perceive other names largely consists of what is going on in your own head. Unfortunately, there are those who will take the meaning of a name too far and act negatively on that, but we can only be responsible for our own selves and I think that is more powerful than any name.

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