For the past few weeks I have been mulling over the phrase ‘What’s in a name?’
Famously posed in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the question itself addresses a complex struggle between society’s influence and personal principles. For Juliet, Montague is a cursed history and a treasured ill fate. By virtue of being Capulet, her query is a forceful defiance to alter the course of her history, thus changing the alliance to her name, her lover’s name, and the relation between the two families.
Briefly foregoing the overarching love narrative, Shakespeare has touched upon something quite potent; a sense that we are able to move beyond our image and social experience, only to be summarised in a title. The play suggests that a name is a weighted word tandem maybe to a expletive. It points to something specific and in doing so, carries with it history, memories and a legacy.
‘What’s in a name?’ is above all a question of sincerity. Can all the days of your life be perfectly characterised in the one gift you are able to leave behind? Examples of such legacy are perhaps best summarised in Harry Potter, where the names of the four houses of Hogwarts each point to a unique value/belief system as least partly based on the name of the person who founded it. In this case, the names have far outlived the people that owned them. Of course there are numerous other contemporary examples of this nature, but I think my ultimate interest in Juliet’s question comes at a time where I’m dealing with a creative block or simply put, artistic insecurity.
Despite undergoing a three year Literature and Creative Writing degree, I have often struggled with the notion of calling myself a writer or a poet. Logic surely follows that if you paint, you’re a painter, if you dance, you’re a dancer and so on in an orderly fashion. Yes, I write, moreover I write poetry, but does being a ‘poet’ truly encompass Candice and all her achievements thus far; even in third person referrals.
In that case, ‘What’s in a name?’ could be alternatively phrased as ‘you are in relation to what you do.’ This in itself may be fair conclusion, but does nothing to dispel the fear of whether or not I make my name, or does my name make me? For a name does not inhabit physical space. In a spatio-temporal setting, our only tangible appreciation of name, is to know what a name does; does it incite joy, promote fear, hint at a colour – we translate names into physical experiences, even in speech.
Romeo himself touches upon this in a private response to Juliet’s question:
By a name
I know not how to tell thee who I am.
My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself,
Because it is an enemy to thee.
Had I it written, I would tear the word.
Romeo’s observation here is key and in part gets to the heart of my anxiety. He recognises that the obstacle between the two of them is not a physical restraint. The play would take a much different tone had the two lovers been different races, were physically ill or came from different social standings. Romeo realises that it’s an internal barrier of preconceived ideas and feelings that stop them from expressing physical love. Had the words ‘Capulet’ and ‘Montague’ been physical entities, or at least visible to the human eye, it would be much easier to remove them as obstacles. Romeo therefore hates his name because he is not in control of its interpretation or meaning
Bypassing once again the ‘love’ aspect of my analysis, there is some relevance here in Shakespeare play. In the year ahead, with numerous projects and ventures on the table, I will be forced to take ownership of my past and future actions. As a result, I will have to come to terms with a new world of criticism and praise. As someone who takes something private and puts it in the public domain, it only makes sense it would receive public comment.
But what do I do with this commentary? How do I decide what influence it has on me and future work? Do I even get to make that decision? It feels as though I am in some sort of limbo between my past self and the person I want to be – I cannot quite make the connection. Yet somewhere in the middle of it all, I am repeatedly asking myself, what is my name and ultimately, who I am and what do I stand for.