Exploring the intricacy of names and how they affect us throughout life.
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”
-Willy the Bard
One day in art class when I was a high school junior, a friend and I pondered whether the color or the fruit first bore the title ‘orange’. Either way would make a lot of sense, we agreed, since both served as a good descriptive reference of the other. This happened long before search engines, so rather than just looking up the answer we just decided to rename the color, since that was primarily the context we were working in during art class. The incident reinvigorated my curiosity about how language and perceived reality interact.
The answer is that the fruit was called an orange first, by the way. And we renamed the color ‘vad’ because it sounded cool.
These interactions between language and perceived reality become even more apparent when we are working with proper titles. The act of naming things is essential to all types of human language. Before language we must have communicated through actions. As we evolved and began giving the subjects of these actions their own designations, we were no longer bound by the conscious framework of the verb. Through names and titles we were able to describe individuals or elements of interactions. Yet these names and titles were often descriptive of the accomplishments or failures of the individual, or by their rank and reputation.
So historically the links between names and behaviors was probably almost always intentional, but as we have evolved and have different ways of assigning names, similar links sometimes persist in the most synchronistic of ways. The relationship between the word and the thing the word describes, in modern times, generally appears to us as a coincidence. But is it?
Could language have so obscured the fact that reality functions more like a verb than a noun that we have empowered proper nouns to shape our consciousness and reality? Are the essence of the word ‘rose’ and the thing ‘rose’ so inextricably tied together within the framework of our conscious reality that by any other name they would indeed smell quite differently?
For this article I will focus on human names only, although the synchronicities between names occur all throughout language, nature and history. This entry will also be short compared to the billions of anecdotes it might be possible to collect. Probably almost everybody that you know, including yourself, could recall at least one incident of titular coincidence. I was literally born with it.
My full name is Joshua Scott Hotchkin, although most people call me Josh. My initials are JSH which practically spells that out, sans the vowel. I can assure you that this is a coincidence, as nobody within my family realized it until after I had been christened thusly. Throughout life I have often identified as a prankster shaman, or, someone who is probably ‘just Joshin’ ya’. But the most compelling synchronicity comes from my last name.
My father was born Scott Leslie Smith to Joyce Deere and Roger Smith. Roger left not long after and my grandmother then met the man who would be my grandfather, Neil Hotchkin. After they were married my father and uncle’s took Neil’s last name as their own. Essentially my father was given the name Hotchkin from his stepfather.
So what does Hotchkin mean? Hotchkin is a variation of the old English name Hodgekin. The ‘kin’ suffix refers to the fact that the names bearer was born into the family indicated by the names prefix, which in this case is ‘hodge’. The word ‘hodge’ is a derivative nickname of the proper name ‘Roger’. Therefore the name Hotchkin translates literally as ‘Rogers family’. Which is accurate, as my fathers biological father was named Roger. However it was the name given to him by his stepfather which described his actual birthright.
The next story was reported back in 1979. It involves two men, twins, who were separated at birth. Both boys were named James by their adopted families. As adults both of them grew up to marry women named Linda with whom each had a son named James Alan/Allan. Both also divorced their wife Linda and remarried a woman named Betty. The two also both had a dog named Toy. Finally each man had studied for careers in law enforcement and excelled in mechanical drawing and carpentry. Only later in life after all these coincidences came to pass did the two men finally reunite and relate their similar stories.
Often times in the news and politics we will see similar strange synchronicities. The story of the Lincoln/Kennedy coincidences, with all of the corresponding titular similarities, is a famous story. Often these correlations are so bizarre they seem like the product of design by a conspiratorial agency like the fabled Illuminati. An alleged group of enlightened elite tricksters using their influence to shape the world with enough subtlety to pull it off, but enough linguistic clues to make the game all that much more exciting. Seems like an awful lot of work just to play word games, though, to me.
In the time before the 2008 election it seemed mind boggling to me that the man most likely to become the next POTUS could have such an unlikely name. Barack Hussein Obama. During the last presidency the sworn enemies of our countries had been Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Could the American people really select a winner who shared a name specifically with Saddam Hussein and shared another within a single letter with Osama bin Laden? Was this the result of conspiratorial in-jokes, or just coincidence? Does it point to some kind of strange cohesion within the framework of consensus reality and ironic interconnectedness?
Chuck Shepard is a reporter whose News of the Weird graced newspapers for years throughout the country with tales of the inexplicable, whether it was anomalous Fortean phenomena or just bizarre criminal behavior. During this time he began to notice the John Wayne phenomena. So he took an interest and did some further research on violent crime and the correlations with names ‘John Wayne’ or just ‘Wayne’ as a first or middle name. He noticed that these names came up an unparalleled number of times among convicted violent criminals. His list is long and compelling and I doubt you could find another such example of criminal titular synchronicity.
Chuck theorized that this was the result of early action movie hero John Wayne, who often played a hard and rugged man always connected to violence. It was his idea that men who self-identified themselves as hard, rugged men may identify with John Wayne and therefore name their sons after or based off the screen legend. Men who identify as hard and rugged may themselves be prone to violence, a trait which is likely to be passed down both through nature and nurture. However, it has also been noted that the John Wayne phenomena occurred often enough even before Chucks explained chain of events could have inspired it. Is this an early example of memetics or some other existential semantic mindfudge?
Studies in recent years have shown a higher incarceration rate for those christened with irregular names. Statistically this means that naming your son Robert or Charles may be more wise than naming him Starblitz or Lysander. Theories about this phenomena generally indicate that the environment one grows up within corresponds to family values about normality and conformity. The oddly named child is more likely to be exposed to worldviews in which social conventions are challenged rather than encouraged and expected, which may increase their tendency towards behaviors that put them at odds with authorities. Is this a case of cause and effect or synchronicity? Or does there even necessarily need to be a distinction between the two?
‘Aptronym’ is the most common name given for the phenomena in which a persons name seems to describe some element of their existence. For example, US congressman Anthony Wiener has been repeatedly caught in sexting scandals that involved him sending unsolicited and inappropriate dick pics.. Or there is the story about Portland, Oregon police officer McCageor ‘Cage’ Byrd, who was applauded in the media for having saved an injured Red Tail Hawk by rescuing it and then transporting it via cage to the Audubon Society. And who could forget Lorena Bobbitt who ‘bobbed’ off her lovers penis and careened ironically into news headlines for years. Then you have Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple whose fight for their love went all the way to the Supreme Court, challenging miscegenation laws.
When an aptronym refers specifically to a synchronistic link between the name of an individual and their career path it is called Nominative Determinism. I first encountered this while employed processing outgoing mail. Most clients were in the education field and I began to notice how often their names were befitting of their jobs, such as Elizabeth Reading, Library Coordinator. My favorite of these was a certain Dr. Gage Paine. Another great example is urologist Richard Chopp, who specializes in vasectomies. This phenomena is well known and examples can be found all over the internet.
I wonder, if i would have been born ‘Will Hung’ would I be making adult movies in Miami right now, instead of writing an article about titular synchronicity? Did my own nominative determinism lead me down a path in which I would validate the coincidences within my name by writing about name coincidences?
This stewpot of our existence gets thicker the longer its on the burner, and as it cooks down, the flavors tend to blend into a homogenous whole. Is language a description of this stew, or are words the ingredients and recipe for our reality? How much of our mental framework is constructed through words and names, and then how much of our reality is constructed by our mental framework?
If our minds generate reality through consensus, expectation and belief, as I believe they do, then does not language also provide the structure for what phenomena does and does not occur and/or exist?
As the reality stew cooks down will it become more and more difficult to differentiate between the meaningful and the coincidental? As our species and/or its environment rapidly and exponentially evolve will the semantic divisions we place between things through language begin to dissolve? And if semiotic entropy is inevitable, does this mean we are all evolving to realize our our single interconnected nature as whirlpools in the vast river of a single mind and its existence?
That is impossible to say. But for now, at least, lets just keep calling it a rose until it smells like everything else, and everything else smells like it.