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Posts tagged naming

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A village shopkeeper is marking sweet wrappers and drinks bottles with the names of children who buy them in a bid to discourage them from littering.

Yvonne Froud, 52, took action after becoming fed up with the rubbish collecting in Joys Green in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire….

Mrs Froud said if named wrappers were found on the streets, she had a chat to the “offender” who was temporarily banned from the shop or asked to pick up some litter as a consequence.

from Moon Tiger, by Penelope Lively (1987), pp.40–41

Today language abandoned me. I could not find the word for a simple object—a commonplace familiar furnishing. For an instant, I stared into a void. Language tethers us to the world; without it we spin like atoms. Later, I made an inventory of the room—a naming of parts: bed, chair, table, picture, vase, cupboard, window, curtain. Curtain. And I breathed again.

We open our mouths and out flow words whose ancestries we do not even know. We are walking lexicons. In a single sentence of idle chatter we preserve Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse; we carry a museum inside our heads, each day we commemorate peoples of whom we have never heard. More than that, we speak volumes—our language is the language of everything we have not read. Shakespeare and the Authorized Version surface in supermarkets, on buses, chatter on radio and television. I find this miraculous. I never cease to wonder at it. That words are more durable than anything, that they blow with the wind, hibernate and reawaken, shelter parasitic on the most unlikely hosts, survive and survive and survive.

God is perfectly capable of naming every animal and giving Adam a dictionary—but he does not. He makes room for Adam’s creativity—not just waiting for Adam to give a pre-existing right answer to a quiz, but genuinely allowing Adam to be the one who speaks something out of nothing, a name where there had been none, and allowing that name to have its own being.

Culture Making, p.109

Once Helen Keller knew what water was, she had to know what everything else was.

—Walker Percy, "Naming and Being"

photo G. SALE
"G. SALE," Beaverton, Oregon (2008), photo by the blogger
"Generic Names for Soft Drinks by County," map by Matthew T. Campbell, from "The Pop Vs Soda Page," by Alan McConchie :: via Strange Maps
from "Why Cubans Have Such Unusual Names," by Joe Contreras,, 9 August 2008

[Cuban philologist-cum-antigovernment blogger Yoani] Sánchez theorizes that in one of the world’s last remaining Stalinist regimes, fashioning a bizarre name from whole cloth has been one safe way of flexing creative muscles without running afoul of the authorities. “Cuba is a country where everything was rationed and controlled except the naming of your children,” she says. “The state would tell you what you would study and where, and creating names was a way of rebelling.” Jaime Suchlicki, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami, says many middle-aged Cubans spent their youth fighting Fidel Castro’s proxy wars in Ethiopia and Angola and may have given their kids African-sounding names in tribute to the continent. Similarly, the preponderance of names starting with the letter Y may reflect the contact Cubans had with Russian advisers sporting names like Yuri and Yevgeny in the years when the Soviet Union was bankrolling Castro’s revolution.

Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits associate the practice with the Communist era. Suchlicki spent his formative years in pre-revolutionary Havana, and says his friends, relatives and neighbors all went by traditional, Spanish-language names. He left the island a year after Castro ousted a U.S.-backed dictator in 1959, and says the growing popularity of unconventional names among his younger countrymen came to his attention only after Castro had consolidated his grip on power. He speculates that this preference for unusual names might signify a denial on some level of the country’s Spanish Roman Catholic heritage. “This may be a rejection of the Spanish past since Cuba is much more black today than it once was,” he says, noting that an estimated 62 percent of all Cubans are of African descent (up from 40 percent 50 years ago).

Doctored photographs are the least of our worries.  If you want to trick someone with a photograph, there are lots of easy ways to do it. You don’t need Photoshop. You don’t need sophisticated digital photo-manipulation.  You don’t need a computer.  All you need to do is change the caption.

—Errol Morris, documentary filmmaker,

from "Looking Away from Beauty," by Rebecca Solnit, Orion Magazine, July/August 2008 :: via wood s lot

Sports bring us the human body as a manifestation of nature—not just the elegant forms of athletes, but their animal ability to move through air and water. At the Olympics, these bodies are co-opted by a political culture that wants to be seen as natural, legitimate, stirring, beautiful. Beautiful bodies are just one kind of nature that nations like to claim. After all, this country invented the idea of “national” parks and claims the sublimity of the Grand Canyon (which preceded it by hundreds of millions of years) and all those purple mountains’ majesty as part of its identity. Corporations too like pristine landscapes, particularly for advertisements in which an SUV perches on some remote ledge, or a high-performance car zips along a winding road through landscape splendor. Few car commercials portray gridlock or even traffic—that your car is just a car among cars—let alone the vehicle’s impact on those pristine environments. Of course most of us have become pretty well versed in critiquing advertisements as such—we assume they are coverups if not outright lies. But the Olympics have not been subjected to the same level of critique.

repost ah-SEE-sh?
a post, 10 August 2008

I’m not going to get into the politics of the mess in the north Caucasus except to say that there are no good guys, but I have to get a minor linguistic gripe off my chest: all the news broadcasts are talking about “ah-SET-ee-?” and the “ah-SET-ee-?nz.”  What’s next, cro-AT-ee-?? ve-NET-ee-?n art?  I realize none of the broadcasters and reporters have ever heard of Ossetia before, but you’d think the patterns of English spelling would clue them in to its proper pronunciation, ah-SEE-sh?.  I suppose it’s another case of hyperforeignification, like “bei-ZHING.”

Incidentally, Ossetian (as every schoolboy knows) is an Iranian language, and the Ossetian name for Ossetia is Iryston, based on Ir, the self-designation meaning ‘an Ossetian’ (well, actually it specifically refers to the majority group of Ossetians, and the minority Digors resent the use of that name for the whole people, causing some Ossetes to identify with the medieval Alans and call Ossetia “Alania,” but let’s set that aside—if you’re interested in the messy politics of Caucasian ethnic nomenclature and the Alans, read “The Politics of a Name: Between Consolidation and Separation in the Northern Caucasus” [pdf, html] by Victor Shnirelman); it used to be thought that Ir was derived from *arya- ‘Aryan’ and thus related to Iran, but Ronald Kim denies this in “On the Historical Phonology of Ossetic: The Origin of the Oblique Case Suffix,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 123 (Jan. - Mar. 2003), pp. 43-72 (2.0.CO;2-5”>JSTOR); the relevant discussion is on p. 60, fn. 42.  Kim says it may be from a Caucasian language, or it may be descended from PIE *wiro- ‘man.’  (The word Ossetian is based on a Russian borrowing of the Georgian term Oseti.)

"Moses Writing in Eden," from the Leo Bible (the earliest surviving illustrated Byzantine Bible), c.940