The Power of a Name

Posted in Rant at 12:07 pm by Jason G.

I remember way back in High School, one of my slightly batty English teachers liked to say, “when we name things, we have power over them.” Like I said, slightly batty.

But the statement actually has a lot of truth, if you think about it the right way. First up, what do we mean when we use the word “power”? Put simply, power is the ability to act. A full definition might yield “the ability or capacity to perform or act effectively.” Same thing.

So, if we have something amorphous, like a theory or an idea, it can be very powerful to give it a name. “Gravity”. “Reason”. “Liberty”. These things are awfully hard to describe without having a name for them. Even harder to share with other people…

Being able to name something makes it much easier to deal with. If I have a constant craving for a cigarette, it becomes much more managable when you attach the word “craving”. Then you can talk to yourself or others about how to control the craving, what causes the craving, how long the craving should last before it fades, etc. It makes it much easier to act — to convince yourself that the craving will pass, to go take a smoke break, or whatever.

Imagine the alternative. I have this wierd feeling every day around 11 am. I don’t have the feeling every day at the same time, and sometimes I don’t get the feeling at all. Something seems to be out of balance, but without a word to describe it, it’s very hard to understand if it is the same feeling one day and the next. Without the word “hunger” to apply to the feeling, it may be difficult to recognize what action would change the feeling (eating food).

So, if you are searching for action, want something to be different, try to see if you can attach a label to the things that need changing. Take a friend’s annoying behavior and give it a name, suddenly you can think about it in concrete terms and work with your friend to change the behavior…

When we name things, we have power over them.