Friday, January 15, 2016

1008 Names

What we see is based partly on the light entering our eyes, but also on what we know. We know Mountains are really big. An equally sized tree and a mountain next to each other means the mountain is in the distance and the tree is close. It is our heads adding this information, not the light. The same is true of sound. A Japanese person will hear L and R as the same sound, partly because they are the same sound. The boundaries are an artificial, learnt separation English speakers have trained their ears to hear. The Japanese place the sound boundaries elsewhere.



Names are one of these things we learn. It is difficult to hear or remember names you aren't familiar with. Once you know a number of people with a name, you have trained your ears to hear it, and your tongue to say it... it becomes more meaningful. Like when you hear a word for the 'first time' and then suddenly start noticing it everywhere. There is so much information out there, we are master filterers. We only see, hear and act on the things that matter to us.

Which is why getting someone's name wrong feels so awful. It means that you don't care. You weren't paying attention. People often choose flying, immortality or strength as their super power. Mine would be more boring. I would love to be able to hear, pronounce and remember people's names and passions on first hearing. Like the Zulu greeting, 'Sawubona' (I see you), it means you have truly seen them. If they are a mountain, you won't see them as the same size as a tree.

When I was in Amsterdam, my name was played back to me as Treffer. Sometimes mispronunciations are aggravating. I like Treffer. In Afrikaans that means 'a hit', as in a song that does really well. That is much better than the real Welsh meaning of Trevor (Prudence), although it does make sense it terms of another meaning I have heard... Rock. Call me Treffer if you want, I am happy to play Rockstar. My partner Gem was named 'Ja Ma' by Starbucks in London. In Afrikaans, that means 'Yes Mom'. I don't think she was as pleased although as an English rose, she didn't understand the meaning. I have heard worse stories. Don't shorten Phillipa to three letters in France.

Treffer and Ja ma


In Morocco, Gem became Fatima (a name given to her) by a local. Trev was heard as Fred. Nicknames are a sign of affection. Gathering them likely means you get along well with people. In some cultures, Gods have thousands of names. Repeating them all tells their story and can be a form of worship/meditation. 1008 is apparently a good number to aim for. I am working on it for my friend Jason Jake Arnie Rocky Belgoen Gerhardus Liebenberg Mopanius Helen Yasoon Eye of the Tiger One Punch Keildson.

But people always have affection for their real name. Jonathan Haidt points out in 'The Happiness Hypothesis', that we like the sound of our names so much this has been show to influence our choice of romantic partners. There is a statistically significant chance a partner's name sounds like yours. Nick & Nicole. Jonathan & Jane. Michael and Michelle. Even if it is just the first letter.

'The Happiness Hypothesis' by Jonathan Haidt

Nick names and given names are great in cultural exchange, but I don't think you can get around the fact that caring means learning someone's real name. Learning their preferred name. It sounds unimportant but it means you aren't filtering them out.
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