by any other name (or the problem of categories)

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

The rose is an analogy for Romeo, who comes from the rival family of the Montagues. The rational and irrational mind are exquisitely highlighted here. No, the name shouldn’t matter so much. The thing is in and of itself; the name doesn’t necessarily define it. And yet, what we call someone holds so much power and sway. It effectively supersedes the named precisely because of the relationship between the namer and the name, i.e. the cognitive processes that drive language acquisition and usage in social contexts.

Construction worker, janitor, scientist, homeless. Each identifier carries with it strong, predefined associations. We are both liberated and confined by our obsessive drive to categorize. If we know what something is, we can respond more quickly to any threat or opportunity. However, the words we use to identify/define pieces of our world are not clean things, and imbedded prejudices can limit our ability to see all facets in a detailed and considerate manner.

Are we able to stay open and see more clearly? Or are we bridled to an evolutionary happenstance of neurological hardwiring?


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