What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
I just spoke with a nice man named Chris at St. Francis of the Woods. He took time to tell me about the retreat center and to offer me driving directions. And then, ten minutes into our call, he surprised me by remembering my name.
How often do people actually take in your name when you try to give it? I confess I’m not as good as Chris. My crime is not so much forgetting a name–though I do this too—it’s more about not paying attention from the first. After introduced to someone by name, we’ll talk. And then after a bit, I’ll say, “Now tell me your name again.”
I look forward to meeting this place and this man, because it will grant me a better sense of each. Their names will become weighted by personal experience so that they are not so easy to fly off the top of my head. And as I write this, I see that it’s been this way since time began, because in a biblical sense, to know a person’s name is to know something about their character; and to go a step further…. to really know a person demands an everyday intimacy.
While there is a distinction between ‘knowing about’ and ‘knowing’, I wonder if these haven’t become homogenized. For me, to say I know about something or someone can imply a whole range of knowledge: It may be a skimming of the surface – the barest of facts – or it can be deep layers of understanding that comes from digging down and getting my hands dirty. Or, it can fall somewhere in between.
But there is a single word in a single verse from the Gospel of Matthew that has marked a line in the sand for me on what it means ‘to know’.
“Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son…
True ‘knowing’ transcends ‘knowing about’ when we decide to get naked with one another. We hold nothing in reserve. We bare our souls and then our bodies. To do it in reverse may be an intention to never know. It may mean something someday… or maybe nothing at all.
But call the name of one you tuly know and see what it means. Notice what rises to the surface. Maybe it’s their wicked sense of humor, or the way they can read your unspoken thoughts, or maybe it’s the way they wear their pajamas all day on Sunday without apology. Names change. They may even soften into a nickname with familiarity. But the deep down core of a person, once you get under the masks and the props –all the stuff that makes them a person– rarely if ever changes.
I think this is sort of what Shakespeare had in mind, when he wrote these words for Juliet to speak to Romeo: “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”