rough notes


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Several months ago, i had to take part in an icebreaking session.  we were given small slips paper, and were told to give our name to introduce ourselves, and then say a few words about whatever was written on the slip.

There were fifty or so of us, and it took a while before it would be my turn to speak up.  as i sat there, listening to people give their names – names i’d quickly forget until i’d have the chance to properly get to know them – i noticed that some people said “I am Jane Doe” while others said “My name is John Hancock.”  And i laughed.

And then when it was my turn to speak.  I said something ridiculous that was funny to me but bland to everyone else.  I can’t remember it now, but it was a small little quip about how names and identities are distinct.  Most of the time, the chasm that exists between the two matters little to us.  I think for most people, the chasm doesn’t even exist – it was bridged long ago and though the structure may be false, that’s okay.

I got stuck on the actual words being spoken by my friends when they were identifying themselves. Some said, “My name is,” while others said, “I am.”  Those who said “I am Jeff” or “I am Jennifer” had made a clear link between their understanding of their self and the utterance that followed.  Their existence is marked by the sound, “Jeff,” or “Jennifer.”  Those who said “My name is Mark,” or “My name is Mandy,” on the other hand, had made the distinction that the utterance which follows is only an appellation.  It is not necessarily an adjective, but still, all it does is describe the person.

I’m no linguist, so I can’t explain this as well as I’d like to.  But the difference can be better understood by comparing how we describe ourselves in English to how it’s done in French.  We don’t normally give a second thought to saying “My name is so-and-so,” but what if we were to think about how it’s done in a foreign language?  In French, we introduce ourselves to people by saying “Je m’appelle”.   In our first French classes, we don’t learn that “Je m’appelle” is a reflexive construction of the verb “appeller,” which means “to call” as in “to describe.”  Instead, we’re told that “Je m’appelle” means, “My name is.”  And idiomaticlly, it does: it’s the phrase used in the same situations as “my name is” used in English.  But take that construction apart, and the difference between “I am so-and-so” and “My name is so-and-so” becomes as clear as day.  When we say, “Je m’appelle,” we are saying something akin to “I am called by,” or “The descriptor I use to describe myself is…”  My person or my self, that is, is not necessarily the utterance I am about to use to identify “me” with.

I like this negotiation of identity that goes on every time I say “My name is.”  Perhaps that’s why I so willingly changed my name in the past, and so willingly have constructed another identity (if not several identities) on the internet.  An identity is nothing more than a public facet of our self.  And a name is imposed on us. Marshall Mathers gets this, and I do, too.

Anyway.  I may have written about this before.  it’s all derivative at this point in my life (no pun intended).

Written by mitchellirons

April 14, 2009 at 9:49 am

Posted in ecrits

Tagged with , ,

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