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On Asking Names

For Jaime S.
whose name I knew today and
who likes the color of a "red, red rose"


"I am Who am"

Exodus 3:14



"What's in a name? A rose by any other name is just as sweet," says the Great Storyteller. Yet on the contrary, a name is rather not arbitrary.

Just take a friend's name for an example, a rather bad one because this young man is an actual acquaintance. His name is Christian Cruzada. Perhaps unknown to him because his parents might not have thought of it (and probably rushed with a name -- any name for that matter -- when asked by the good nurse upon delivery of the bouncing baby boy), his rather common first name speaks volumes about him when juxtaposed with his last. For his name means -- in whatever way and on whatever road he is on -- that he is a Christian on a Crusade, that is, he is a soldier for the King on a rather perilous journey. As this friend told him before we parted ways, this debacle he finds himself in is merely a rest, a pause (as the fellowship had many stops on the way to the Mountain to vanquish the ring and reinstall a king) to prepare for greater battles and hard-won victories. That Christian Cruzada will no doubt one day become the name "Christian Cruzada" and claim it and conquer it.

Yet again, notice how one has a whole bag of names: there are first names and nicknames; business names and pet names; Christian names and usernames; names for friends and imaginary names; screen names and bed names; pseudo-names and forgotten names; in other words, there are names and there are names. So who is who, which is which? Will the real one, as the philosopher Eminem commands, "please stand up / please stand up!"

(And we have not even entered into the mysterious domain of multiple-personality disorders, which perhaps implies, that if a person, i.e. a /persona/, which literally means the mask worn by a character in a play, is able to have a host of different names, then someone with MPD would have different personas with each persona having its own list of names.)

So is a name contingent (one can have this or that name and it doesn't matter, i.e., /das Sache/, which one for one can be any one) or necessary (it couldn't have been otherwise for the name matters, is essential to the being of the person)?

Who can say, anyway? Maybe we are barking at the wrong tree again. Yet what we can be certain of is that one's name matters.

Whether a name just refers or 'points' to the real (Augustine) or a name, and any other word for that matter, is a closed system of signs (symbiotics) or perhaps even divine (Pseudo-Dionysius), a name will always be as sweet as a rose for it is the rose itself that introduces itself as itself, which lets us gaze at its beauty in its beauty, which lets us try to know it as it can always be known only asymptotically (St Thomas reputedly said that one cannot even know, that is, truly know, even a fly. What more a rose, the world within and without -- or even the abyss in man and the abyss in God, of which Angelus Silesius asks "Which may deeper be?").

Take asking one's name as an example. Notice the surprise on the face of a restaurant's server upon being asked for her name as she pours freshly brewed coffee in a pristine coffee cup. Or have you felt the pleasant relief from the required formality between a sales agent and a prospective client as the latter breaks the distance with a joke or perhaps a side comment to gain a wide, pleasant smile from the former as to redirect and shatter that obstrusive capitalist set-up? (In long gone times, the salesman was also the the manufacturer, the manager, the owner and one's neighbor or fellow church-goer, and perhaps the godfather of your youngest son.) Or do you remember the last time you asked a street child's name instead of saying you had no spare change from your P120 cup of coffee and P30 purchase of a pack of cigarettes?

One can ask the child's name and never have to apologize ("Patawarin po," as the Teacher notes) or feel forced to buy those beautiful garlands or think twice if a syndicate uses such children for their own ends. Just ask the name and give your own; does not friendship start from such awkward beginnings? And is it not true that between friends no transaction is necessary (exchange of money through always dirty hands) and that the only commerce required is an exchange of stories (an exchange of selves through open hearts and ears)?

(So don't knock on the already tinted car window of a great divide between you in your airconditioned vehicle and the child in tattered clothes selling something absurd in the pouring rain; if a guest knocks on your door, would you just knock back? Never move the car a bit to make the child go away; the child is not a fly you can scare or even swat away. Perhaps a simple 'no' or 'wala' would do; yet 'mere silence,' if there is no other way, is way better.)

We can never know everyone as we can never know any one; but the name, the name we can hold on to. For even if our memory gives up on us (the forgotten story of the storied person), should we recall the name we would remember this memory, that smile, the face and the trace of the unknowable Other. Perhaps that would be simply enough -- as simple as snapshot of a rose in bloom: immortalized forever even if long withered.

Ask a stranger's name; and while it is no guarantee that the Stranger will ever be known, he or she, as strange as it can be, is just a question away from being a friend. The Friend: the Stranger with a name and a face. And from that simple question, which is the starting point of all quests and journeys, who knows what lies hidden in the horizon?

Yet again, as an old song problematizes, "The problem with hello is goodbye."

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