Tell me about something that doesn’t have a name. Let’s start with your right knee. You probably haven’t named that, have you? Tell me about it.
Describe its contours. What makes it a knee? Is it rough or smooth? Does it have hair on it? Too personal? Sorry. Well, does it cause you pain? Is it the same knee you were born with?
Once we have shared all there is to share about your right knee, I’ll ask you to give it a name. Now, whenever we talk about Bendsome in the future … you really named your right knee Bendsome? … you’re a hoot.
Anyway, whenever we talk about Bendsome in the future, we’ll have reached an agreement. We’ll have agreed that those two syllables refer specifically to the point where your femur, your tibia, your fibula, and your patella are joined by a community of ligaments. In your right leg.
MyKneeGuide.com provides our illustration.
This is not the most profound agreement you and I will ever have. We’ve suspected for years that the shin bone was connected to the … knee bone. The knee bone’s connected to the … thigh bone. And so on. But now we know Bendsome. We’ve become coders and Bendsome is the code for your right knee.
Significance & control
From this point onward, Bendsome will have significance to us. Names do that. They make us feel better, too. If we can name something, we feel some level of control over it. In Eden, Adam must have been nearly full of himself. He got to name everything!
We even create names for things beyond our control. That’s how Mikey, the bully who made your life so miserable in junior high school, became “Doodyhead.” Sure, he still was the reason you hated to get up in the morning. But in the security of your bedroom, when the lights were out and you were certain nobody was listening, you gave Doodyhead a stern talking-to in your vivid fantasy life. And you didn’t call him Mikey. No, you were The Namemaker. You were in charge.
We also name things beyond our understanding. Creation. Death. And a host of good things and bad things that happen between those two events. They’re elusive concepts and nearly impossible to define with any sense of authority. But we have named them. Love, Hate, Sin, Blessing. Big names that let us assume we have an agreement. We think we both know what I mean when I name the name. I’m not so sure we do. Are you?
Name that Storm!
Would you like to know where this all started? It was this morning. I was checking the weather on my mobile phone, just like humankind has done for ages … incredible, isn’t it?
When I was ten, the telephone was a device on the wall. It had a removable handset connected by a curly cord. We used it to strangle unsuspecting siblings as they passed through the kitchen. The cord rivaled the Slinky for its marvelous tangling abilities. To get the weather from that telephone, you called somebody in the area you were curious about and asked them to look out the window. How far we’ve come. I don’t have to speak with anyone today!
But I was checking the weather on my phone and saw that somebody had named a winter storm Gregory. It’s remarkable. So I am. I’m remarking that I don’t understand why we have begun naming winter storms. Were we out of other things to name? At the risk of slipping into full-blown curmudgeon-ism, I respectfully submit that we had storms that went nameless. My grandparents — and I trust theirs as well — had storms that went nameless.
Storms had labels. It was a squall, a blizzard, a chinook, a tornado. They were great labels. So good, in fact that they’ve been co-opted by marketers for frozen confections and vacuum cleaners. Powerful stuff. But names? Please.
Gregory. What’s a Gregory? By agreements I’ve made with other people, a Gregory is a surname. It’s my former supervisor. It’s a gifted dancer. But a storm? I don’t think so.
It’s those darn marketers again. Here’s the thing to remember when you’re naming things. We may name things to try to control them. But the named things can be used to try to control us. The names get stuck on things that don’t have nearly the awesomeness and power of the original. A vacuum cleaner will never take Dorothy to Oz. A frozen dessert will never lock an entire landscape in an icy grip and change lives forever.
But Gregory — if you hear it often enough — will mesmerize you. You’ll check into a television channel or website almost compulsively to find out where Gregory is now. When will Gregory get here? Am I prepared? Will I have to hunker down and tough it out if Gregory … or Helena, or Iras, or Jupiter … decide to stay for a while? By immersion, Gregory and his ilk will assume control of a significant part of your life.
Snow doesn’t. “It’s snowing.” How nice. “It’s snowing a lot.” We still have things we need to do. “Look at the snow pile up and isn’t that wind howling?” Thank goodness we have dedicated road crews to clear this stuff so we can get on with life.
Snow is common and doesn’t have nearly the emotional charge that marketers give these alphabetized weather systems. Our ancestors weathered similar storms. You and I are living proof that the weather, by any name, didn’t stop them. It might temporarily change the pace of our lives, but stop us? No. We’ve got this.
I do wonder, however, if Gregory will be a popular name among children born as the 2017 school year is starting.
“Honey, do you remember when … Gregory?”