Shakespeare famously wrote, “What is in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet says this as she muses over how she and Romeo can be together because she’s a Capulet, he’s a Montague, their families are arch enemies, and as far as she’s concerned all that stands between them is his name. “So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title.” Simple, really: Romeo must just give up his name (I had all my days explaining to my kids in English class that she actually meant his family name, not his first name) and then they can be together. Ah, to be a naive teenager again, when the solutions to all of life’s problems were so very simple.
Of course, people attach different meaning to names. For some, it’s merely a label, something that lets you know if people are talking to you. For others it’s a part or their identity, helping to define who they are. In several cultures a child’s name changes at a certain age, signifying the passage into adulthood, and on conversion to Islam, for example, it’s traditional to take a new name symbolising the end of the old life and the beginning of the new (this custom is also practised in certain Christian traditions, I think).
And then there are people with more than one name. There’s their official name, by which they are registered and by which their mom still addresses them, and there’s the name by which they are known to the public. I’m talking about stage names, pseudonyms, noms de plume and pen-names (yes, I know the last two are the same thing). Yes, I’m also jumping on the bandwagon and throwing in my ten cents on the topic that has the interwebs, twitterverse and blogosphere abuzz this week: Robert Galbraith who became an overnight sensation when it came out he is really JK Rowling (for some reason I desperately want to end this sentence with the words, “…in drag.”) Continue reading “On names (and what they smell like)”