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Giving and Keeping Names

The naming of cats is a difficult matter, it isn’t just one of your holiday games – T.S. Eliot, The Naming Of Cats

Names are strange. Most of our students have names they did not choose, given to them by parents who had only just met them. Reasons for naming a child vary widely. Sometimes parents want the name’s sound to reflect the beauty of the child. Other names like Hope and Joy illustrate qualities parents wish their children to develop. Regardless of how a child’s name is chosen, it becomes an integral part of their identity and experience.

The closeness of names to their objects allows some names to act as guardians. Our school is named The Saint Constantine School after the emperor who beheld the cross of Christ in a vision. If, God forbid, this school ever forgets to follow Christ, our name will reprimand us. We would be hypocrites if we ceased to follow the cross.

Sometimes names act as warnings. Out on the playground, the Pre-K students have warned me to avoid “Shark Island” because sharks think teachers are tasty. Knowing the name of something can sometimes change how we approach it. For example, it is rarely wise to approach Shark Island without shark repellent. Names can sometimes be false warnings, though. For example, Iceland is not actually an uninhabitable icy tundra, but a lovely green, mountainous country.  

The best of names are those which are well kept. There is a wild tree rooted in our field affectionately named The Fairy Tree. The hushed voices speaking the tree’s name reveal an interesting discovery: it matters not only what the names are, but how they are spoken. The Fairy Tree would not be as lovely a name if it was always spoken with a sneer. When we utter a name reverently, we imbue it with honor. With repeated reverence we maintain the name. Thus, if a name is good, we ought to both speak and keep it carefully.

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