What’s in a name?

would a rose, by any other name, smell as sweet?

Image Mark Aert from FreePhoto.com

Okay, so language may not be the only tool to build connection but I think it is one of the most powerful ones. In his book, To Have or To Be, psychiatrist Erich Fromm puts forth the premise that language colors our whole perception of what is real and what is true. That which we name comes to be something that we know and relate to.

We can expand our understanding of things and deepen our connections by playing naming games.

Jacqueline Horsfall, in Play Lightly, Dawn Publications, 1997 describes a naming game that I really like. “Say My Way” is a simple game and requires no equipment or specialized learning. “Say My Way” develops language skills, perceptions, and, I think, a sense of whimsy.

Here’s what you do:

  • Find an outdoor area.
  • Notice the ground cover– grass, tall weeds, short weeds, lawn, sand, snow, gravel, dirt, even asphalt.
  • Or notice the weather–hot, cold, wet, dry windy, hot wind, hot wet wind, muggy, still, sunny, cloudy, and so forth.
  • Using all of your senses–touch (hands, feet, face), taste, smell, sight & hearing
  • Identify and name what you are experiencing.
  • Pretend that you do not know the name for the thing and, using your own observations, right then, name it.
    • the examples Ms Horsfall uses include (for snow)
      • sparkling jewels
      • cold bee stings
      • white feathers
      • hard water
      • soft blanket
    • thus, the mesquite in my yard could be corrugated feather tree (for its deeply furrowed bark and feathery leaves)
    • or the stinging nettle I encountered yesterday while weeding would be fire plant (for the burn that lingered until this morning.)
  • To conclude the activity discuss your names. (Ms Horsfall concludes each activity in her book with a “Let’s Talk” activity.)
  • Her suggested questions include: “how can things have more than one name”, “what are the benefits of more than one name”, “what are the benefits of only one name”?
  • I would add: “what do you know about the named thing from your name that you didn’t know from its original name”?

If you want a more formal conclusion to the activity you could add a writing component. Pretend to be an explorer who has just found a new specimen. Write to your sponsors (or friends back home) and describe your discovery and the setting in which you found it. Explain to them why you gave it that name. Include a picture to go with the words.

Have fun naming.

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