(Copyright © 2008) 

In naming loved ones, babies, pets, boats, towns, mountains, and constellations in the sky, we give meaning to particular phenomena in our experience, while, at the same time, giving concrete form to values which are important to us. Naming is a simultaneous giving and taking within consciousness, a giving of ourselves and a taking-in of the world, claiming it as our world.

 

We smile at early engravings showing beams of sight reaching out from the eye, intending an object, reflecting an image into awareness—but time and again that is an apt depiction of how we see the world. We reach for the world in a certain way—and discover exactly what we set out to find. If we saw the world differently we would be someone else. We have no choice but to be ourselves and see through our own eyes. It is no accident the world we find every day bears close resemblance to the one we lost yesterday. It is not the world that is the same so much as our outlook on the world. Expectancy is destiny. As I wrote in an unpublished manuscript titled Mind and Planet:

 

We see new things in terms of the trusted and familiar. No wonder early settlers founded New France, New England, New Amsterdam, New York, and New London. Maine has its Bangor, Bath, Belfast, Calais, China, Denmark, Egypt, Ghent, Gilead, Hebron, Limerick, Madrid, Naples, New Sweden, Norway, Palermo, Paris, Poland, Rome, Salem, Scotland, Sorrento, Sweden, Troy, Verona, Windsor, and Yarmouth, to mention a few recycled place names. The old seed folk tamed the wilderness by seeing it as an extension of the world they knew by heart.

          Looking for, seeing as, consciousness of—this is how we fit the world to preconceived plans. We take those plans with us wherever we go. We bring the world into being as a variation on the intentional order we carry in our heads.

 

In The Songlines (Viking, 1987), Bruce Chatwin traces the story of Aboriginal Peoples trekking the landscapes of (what we now call) Australia, singing landforms into being, telling their stories in the same words the First People used in deciphering the geological notation which made those landscapes significant to them. Chatwin recounts a conversation with Arkady Volchok, a Russian “who was mapping the sacred sites of the Aboriginals”:

 

The Aboriginals had an earthbound philosophy. The earth gave life to a man; gave him his food, language and intelligence; and the earth took him back when he died. A man’s ‘own country’ . . . was itself a sacred ikon that must remain unscarred. . . .

To wound the earth . . . is to wound yourself, and if others wound the earth, they are wounding you. The land should be left untouched: as it was in the Dreamtime when the ancestors sang the world into existence.

 

Which is what naming does for us in our own Dreamtime—sing the world into conscious existence. As an old German saying informs us, “A well-loved child has many names.” Our caring for that child overflows in those names, each an aspect of the loving consciousness in which we hold that other being. Those names say more about us than the child.

 

My father was given the name of his father’s grandfather. My elder brother was named after his great-grandfather’s youngest brother, who was a family hero for fighting in the Civil War.

 

My first name is that of my mother’s great-great-grandfather, a man who rode out the Revolutionary War in Nova Scotia, and was the first of his line to settle in Maine; he was later shipwrecked in the great storm of 1798 and died on the shoals off Truro on Cape Cod. My middle name is the family name of my father’s mother. She died of a weak heart the day after she gave birth to her son—who was to become my father. As reported in the local newspaper:

 

Despite the rain of Saturday, the funeral of Mrs. Rev. J. N. Perrin, Jr., was largely attended. . . . The sad and tender services of the hour were closed with the baptism, beside the open casket, of the son born two days before, to whom was given the name Porter Gale. At the age of a little more than thirty-three years, the body of Mrs. Perrin was laid to rest in our village cemetery, her short life a long one, having so nobly ‘answered life’s great end.’

          Our community was exceedingly shocked and saddened, on Friday morning last, by the news that Mrs. Laura Gale, wife of Rev. J. N. Perrin, Jr., had died about eight o’clock the evening before. On the morning previous (Thursday), she had given birth to a son and her many friends were cheered by the report—though it proved not well grounded—throughout the day, that “she was doing well.” Only a few moments before she died, heart failure became apparent, and her life went out quickly. . . . If one thing more than another could be called her ‘forte,’ it would seem to be work with, and for, the young.

 

Laura’s husband, my grandfather, gave his eldest son his deceased wife’s family name. My middle name is the same, as is my eldest son’s. My younger brother’s name is meaningful by an entirely different scheme. He was born on June 21, a date between the name days of St. Peter and St. Anthony. Guess what he was named. Apparently, he was named—if not for the day—for the time of year he was born. Had a name been associated with the summer solstice, he probably would have been given that one.

 

In 1982, I wrote: “By placing old names on new people we try to establish continuities of meaning during times of evident transition.” Which are also likely to be times of excitation, and often stress. In such situations we consciously strive for meaning in our lives. Which we achieve by mapping familiar meanings onto novel events, thereby welcoming them into our life worlds of consciousness. This gives us a handle on the new by establishing a meaningful relationship with it from the start.

 

Think of our terms of endearment: Honey, Sweetheart, Sweetie, Sugar, Darling, My Love. These are not as frivolous as they may sound. Declaring endearment is a meaningful act. That is a good part of what consciousness is about—establishing meaningful relationships.

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