What is it in a name? For generations we have been naming one another, pregnant with meanings sometimes long forgotten, but with meaning nonetheless.
It is something given to us, whether by birth or encounter. It is the exact set of letters that are pronounced in a certain way that we respond to. Sometimes, they are endearing, or embarrassing, but they are always something strangely intimate.
We respond to our names in different ways. Sometimes, there mere sound of it is met with joy, sadness, or fear. It sounds different from the lips of our loved ones, as if the mere acknowledgement of it reminds us that we are alive.
When the name gets taken away, we lose something very important. Similar to how people in concentration camps, prisons and large institutions are given numbers to replace their names, there is a distinct quality of humanity that disappears. When we take away people’s names, we isolate them from us and they are put in a box fit for our understanding. We forget that beyond the numbers, they are people with dignity and who have the capacity to do things beyond our imagination.
In a more relatable aspect, it applies also to people we encounter every day. People that we see but not necessarily interact with personally such as policemen, grocery staff, traffic enforcers, and janitors. We call them “Sir” or “Ma’am” or “Miss”, but we never really take the time to get their names or know who they are. We compartmentalize people into their functions in society attached to the services and help that they can offer us in return.
Though it is not possible to know and remember the names of everyone we encounter, it is good to remember those that we see every day: the nice policeman making sure your office building is safe, the young lady at the front desk of the place you are staying in, the guy who sweeps the sidewalks near your university, the librarian who you always see when you return your books and the many more who make your life a bit easier without asking for much in return.
It is a way of telling people and reminding them that beyond what they do, they are important. We subtly reinforce the idea that as people, they should be respected and acknowledged. By learning their names, we tell them they are important.
So if today, you read this before you head out to work or school, learn the name of someone you see everyday but don’t talk to. You’d be surprised to know how much of a difference it actually makes.
By Quina Baterna, regional intern at the WYA Asia Pacific office. To learn more about and apply to our internship program, click here.