By Any Other Name
When literature’s favourite suicidal pre-teen romantic asked “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” she was making excuses for crushing on the son of her father’s nemesis. But Juliet was right to recognize the importance of names when it comes to matters of the heart.
When we get a new crush we often create nicknames, even when we know their real ones: ‘internet guy’; ‘blue-haired girl’; I once dubbed someone ‘Platonic Cuddling’. Perhaps, in those early stages, a nickname is less intimidating than a real one. We believe that if we use a cutesy pet name we’re in less danger of getting stung.
Nicknames come up again when we snag the crush. We demonstrate what kind of relationship we are in by how we refer to our partners. Are we a ‘baby’ couple? Do we call our lover ‘sugar cake’? Or do we go too far the other way, like one girl I heard about who nicknamed her boyfriend ‘Balls’. Even when not cute or crude, many of us will shorten or elongate our partners’ names, sometimes trying out a couple until one fits right. (I was once referred to as Maximus.) In the re-naming we suggest, to ourselves and those around us, an intimate kinship of two.
And when the relationship falls apart (and many do) names matter once again. Referring to their first name will invoke all of our messed-up feelings about our ex’s. When we say “I ran into So-and-so” to our friends, the name alone stands in for our whole relationship. For this reason, we often avoid using their names altogether. We may have negative reactions to them for the rest of our lives.
And then there is the name that we don’t know, that which belongs to our next great love. Whatever it is, we grow impatient to know both it and its owner.
So to answer Miss Juliet’s question of what is in a name, quite a lot, actually.