Look After Your Mind

What’s in a Name? Part 1

 We’ve probably all heard the old bit of wisdom that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me’.

Personally, I don’t think this is true at all.

Language is powerful and influences people all the time. Name-calling, using the term in its widest sense, can be both amusing and hurtful.

When I started teaching in the 1970s I soon learned that nicknames the children called me were ‘Mr B’ and ‘Captain Flare’.

When I first heard this second one, I thought of it as ‘flair’ and put it down to my ability as a teacher.

Alas no, the kids were just referring to my stylish trousers.

With schooldays in mind, perhaps you remember being taught that names are nouns; they are like labels that we attach to things and come in very handy when we want to refer to people, places and objects etc.

The downside is that the noun ‘freezes’ what it names in time. Often this isn’t a problem: the desk where I’m writing this article will be a desk in ten years’ time (and hopefully I’ll still be writing at it).

But much of what goes on in the world are processes that continually change.

You may also recall being taught that verbs are ‘doing words’ expressing actions.

An interesting and potentially beneficial mind game is to take nouns and deliberately think of them as verbs. So (although it might sound silly) my desk is ‘desking’.

This isn’t an uncommon property of language; my computer is ‘computing’ for instance, a familiar notion.

The philosopher Alan Watts asserted that ‘verbing’ is a very healthy way of looking at the world. He didn’t look therefore just at an apple tree but also saw it ‘appling’, unfolding and evolving through time as something dynamic, which for Watts made it all the more wonderful.

The artist John Constable did something similar. He would regularly stare at the ever-changing patterns of clouds and the shifting subtleties of colour and called this ‘skying’.

When we apply this technique to ourselves and others we begin to appreciate that we are doing what the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins called ‘selving’.

We are ‘going ourselves’ in the world; growing and changing in all kinds of ways as we express our unique nature.

This realisation brought a burst of joy to the American architect Buckminster Fuller when he famously said, ‘I seem to be a verb!’ 

Steve Bowket