Also Known As: the name game

Funny how topics tend to cluster in life and in the mind. Lately it's been names and naming. The annual list of the most common baby names appeared in the news media, Olivia and Liam coming out as the most popular where I live. Will parents who choose these names hand their kids the challenge of distinguishing themselves from other Olivia's and Liam's? Because names do make a first impression and bring with them all sorts of baggage. Wayne? Oh you don't look like a Wayne.
Italica (M.B., 2008)
     Homer names some of the fallen and those who felled them in The Iliad, and goes further to provide a sense of lineage. Zeus is the son of Kronos and the father of Sarpedon, old Nestor the son of Peleus and father of Antilochos and a second son. Other descriptions are rather general, mighty Aias, the famous spearman Odysseus, bronze-armoured Hektor, handsome Paris a.k.a Alexandros. That's the thing about the names in classic and also Russian literature, it is common to find more than one name for the same character, so clarity is sacrificed for, what? Local colour or customs? Homer feels it important to identify the battlers by name, but he realizes that he can't include everyone, not with the masses necessary for the slaughter that goes on between the gates of Troy and the fast ships of the Achaians, or Argives or Danaans, the other names by which the Greeks are known. Choose your favourite handle. Instead, in his catalog of ships he names most of the leaders. The way he refers to them suggests that his audience must have known who he was talking about, at least their reputations, otherwise why bother. What's in a name?
     The chronicler who accompanies the Pasha on an attempt to expand the Ottoman Empire into Albania instinctively realizes that names are only a beginning. He needs to note some characteristic of the principle players to distinguish them in the history he is writing of the the siege, in the novel by the same name, The Siege, by Ismail Kadare. It was great of Kadare to include such a character, someone whose very purpose in his fictional life is to describe, to chronicle events. You'd think there would have to have been similar functionaries in all wars, perhaps poets like Homer, though Homer purportedly got his material from oral tradition, for the war he wrote about happened in the 13th century BCE, say scholars, and The Iliad is said to have first appeared in the 8th century BCE. You know those games of telephone, where one persons whispers something to someone else
and by the end of the line the original message is distorted? Makes you wonder about the oral tradition. Too bad Homer could not draw on the work of a chronicler like the Sultan sent along with his troops.
   This last thought tempts me to open the Pandora's box of historical accuracy and fiction, but that's for another time. Today it's names that cluster in random thoughts and another reference comes to mind from the classic WW II poem, Naming of Parts by John Reed.  Reed speaks in the voice of a soldier who is learning the parts of his gun, but the brilliance is in his juxtaposition of the names of spring flowers - japonica, almond blossom - and "lower swing swivel" and "cocking piece," two of the parts of his gun, i.e. the exuberant beauty and promise of new life the image of flowers produces contrasted with the utilitarian names that apply to an instrument used for killing.
     I like the sound of words and found a way to make a sort of poetry out of the names of tools in sculptor Geoffrey Smedley's workshop.  Meaning and language play into his metaphorical machines, to all the parts of which he gives names. A ball that rolls down a chute, for example, is called The Seed of Intention, another part Confession, another Double Derogators.
     Olivia? Liam?  For many years Michael came out on top for boys. In fact one semester in my classroom I had so many that I called them the Mike section, which immediately stripped them of their individuality, at least briefly, and that wasn't fair because you really cannot assume that similarly named people have the same characteristics. Maybe a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but what about the fragrance of all the girls named Rose?