NAMES

Why is the human race obsessed with names? We have names for everything, and things that don't have names are immediately assigned temporary names. I realize that communication requires a rather heavy use of names, but the need to know names has gotten out of hand.

I have friends who are bird watchers. You can't walk anywhere with them without one of them saying “Hear that, it's a …….”  Plant people are also obsessed with names. They seem unable to appreciate a plant or flower without knowing its name. They will go to great lengths to find out the name of a particular plant. There is a field devoted to it called taxonomy. Similar species of plants are grouped into a particular genus. Genuses or genera are then grouped into families, which are in turn grouped into orders, and then into classes that are grouped into phylums and finally into kingdoms.

My ability to appreciate birds, flowers, plants, trees and animals does not require my knowing specifically what they are called. I really don't care what species or genus or family they belong to. When I was working for a guest ranch as a wrangler leading trail rides in the Colorado mountains, guest were always asking me what kind of bird or flower such and such was. I rarely knew, and sometimes I would make up names because the people seemed to be unfulfilled without having a name to associate with that at which they were looking. One bird in particular, that was commonly seen, was a black bird with white wings. I always told people who asked that it was a ‘white-winged black bird.' They seemed happy with that, and I really didn't care if it was a White-throated Swift, a Cordilleran Flycatcher, a Say's Phoebe, a Western Scrub-Jay, a Violet-green Swallow, a Canyon Wren, a Sage Thrasher, a Spotted Towhee, a Lark Bunting, or a Calamospiza melanocory.

I've never been good at memorizing names, so perhaps my aversion to names stems from that shortcoming. When I meet someone and hear his or her name, I almost never remember it. I try, but that part of my brain doesn't work well. When I'm reading books or listening to a book on tape, names are always confusing me. I hate books where the first chapter introduces a dozen or more characters. I can go to a movie and love it, but walk out of the theater not recalling the name of a single character in the movie. I have friends who can name every key person in the movie as well as the actors who played their parts and previous movies they have made. But I maintain that I have enjoyed the movie just as much, if not more.

My conclusion is that names are labels that allow us to communicate with others about this or that, but have no intrinsic value. They do little or nothing to enhance our pleasure of encountering that to which the name refers, and can actually distract from it if one is preoccupied with the name. I have decided that I have a gift rather than a weakness. While others fret about names, I can totally focus on the object and savor the experience more fully. Just don't ask me what it was I was enjoying.