Friday, 11 November 2011

That's not my name

In The Crucible, John Proctor, a farmer who has an affair with a young girl, is willing to confess to witchcraft in exchange for his life. However, when they tell him his signed confession will be nailed to the church's door, he tears up the paper. To him, what others say and what he signs is not the same truth, and his name becomes essential as representation for his good character. Also, he cannot save himself through lies if others were willing to die whilst adhering to the truth. When asked why he will deny this confession, Proctor cries :

"Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!" ( Act 4). 

Not many of us will ever be in a similar situation, but I think many heard their name misspelt or misspoken or have themselves been unsure of how to say a name. I have been giving conversation classes to a Korean student named Taejin, and the whole time I called him Taidjin or Taygin, until I asked him how it was actually said: Tejin. One doesn't say the "a". 

Perhaps not saying a name right is not the end of the world, but like Proctor says, it is the only one we have and because our names are so interwoven with our identities, I think it is important to try and say them the right way. Sure, if you occasionally shorten it or if you prefer your pet name or nickname, that is fine. Or if you really dislike your name, you can still change your name. A friend of mine told me how a friend of his ( keep up now with whose friend it is haha) changed her name legally to William Kentridge, who is already a well-known South-African artist. I don't know why she did it. Does a name constitute the worth of an artist? Is it worth more because it is made by someone famous? Perhaps that is the commentary she was trying to make.  

But I like my name: Sabine ( please don't stalk me now). It stems from the name of an Italian tribe that was conquered by the Romans. So I like it so be said right. It has become increasingly irritating that people are just inventing their own little modifications of it. Or they call me S. I am not a l
eggy, blond bimbo in Gossip Girl, so I would appreciate people expanding on the one-syllable naming. Please. Occasionally it is fine, but please, it is not my name. I know I have said that as long as it starts with an S, I will assume you mean me. But it should continue onward from just the S. 

Have you seen Horrible Bosses? In it, the three main characters have a navigation system in their car which allows them to call someone if they need help. When they do call to find a dodgy bar, an Indian man named Gregory answers. They ask him if that is his real name, and he answers that his real name is Atmanand but that he was assigned that name because Americans would struggle with pronouncing the workers' real names. One of the characters says that he will call him by his real name, but after failing to pronounce it correctly states that "that name is a nightmare" and that they'll just call him Gregory. 

I feel that this is a typically American approach. If you aren't called Judy or Jim or if Robert can't become Bob the world of names does not make sense. I know this is a generalization, but if this attitude is sampled in quite a large international film, there must be some truth to it. 

Not that I can pronounce everything well: hardest for me are Xhosa names. There are different clicks and my tongue gets all tied. I am further afraid that by trying to say it right I am butchering your name and you will judge me for it. So I kind of avoid saying names that I can't pronounce.  Or I avoid saying names if I can't remember them. Perhaps my question is if it is better to butcher a name, but to try and say it and hope through repetition one will succeed? Or to just avoid the name-situation completely?

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