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what’s in a name?

October 31, 2011

“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  So Romeo would were he not Romeo called,”  said the ill-fated Juliet of her beloved (Act II scene II).  But Anne Shirley of Green Gables had a different philosophy: “A rose just couldn’t smell as sweet if it were a thistle or a skunk cabbage.” 

Juliet’s question of What’s in a name? may not be quite as famous as Wherefore art thou, Romeo? but I found myself pondering the former when I came across this article last week over at Mary Meets Dolly which shares a story about young girls in India who participated in a renaming ceremony.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it” (paragraph 2158).  But for these particular girls, there is little dignity to be found when the icon of their personhood is unwanted.  Literally. 

The original piece done by the Associated Press states that the girls shed names like “Nakusa” or “Nakushi,” which mean “unwanted” in Hindi.  Instead of demanding respect, their names were a stigma of worthlessness.   Perhaps Juliet didn’t appreciate the significance and value of a title, but these young women certainly do: Some just wanted traditional names with happier meanings, such as “Vaishali,” or “prosperous, beautiful and good.”  They understand the importance of one’s name reflecting her identity and beauty. 

Originally, I was convinced that Juliet was in the wrong and that the renamed women proved Anne Shirley to be right.  But I soon realized that both literary characters are right.  A rose would smell as sweet if it were called by another name even a thistle or a skunk cabbage, but it would have a difficult time convincing others to accept its delicate fragrance.  To call a rose a rose is to acknowledge its true identity.  And so it is with these girls who struggled to convince others, and perhaps even themselves, of their dignity.  Their new icons do not change who the young women are but hopefully the names will help others more easily recognize that which they have always been: prosperous, beautiful and good.

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