Naming Inanimate Objects
Her name is Aspen, I said, and Jonny looked at me as though I were mad.
What? he said.
Not, ‘the camera’. She has a name.
You named your camera?
He said, Of course.
We argued for a little while, and then he told me that if I wrote a blogpost like this it would convince him to name his penknife. So here it is.
What’s in a name? Well, at its most basic, our names are surely given for ease of communication. A label for convenience. For registers and tax slips and birthday cards and book covers. To yell across the street or write on an envelope. Charlie from down the road? Oh, now I know who you’re talking about…
But something like my camera, an inanimate object, must not then be in need of a name. My camera has no human identity, no need for a title by which it can be identified, other than 'Rosa’s camera'. So what else is there, in a name, which means she is called Aspen?
Names are not simply labels. A name defines us not simply as a singular entity but as an individual. A name makes us unique and special and different from everybody else. It gives us a sense of importance and self-worth. But my camera does not need this either; it has no consciousness which needs reassuring.
In that case, try this: why do we name pets? Pets have no concept of the self-importance given by possessing a name. We name them, for the practical use of training them to respond to 'Poppy' or 'Rover' or 'Tequila-mint-humbug-pie' (not kidding on that last one. We had one very clever hamster.) But also, emotionally, to personify them. To humanise them. To name a pet is to show it affection, as if to say: you are more important to me than every other cat out there. Therefore, I will not call you simply 'cat'.
Bingo. Names, as well as all the other ideas they possess, guarantee our affection towards the named. The affection may be to a new baby, or to a new goldfish. Naming the former is more for a practical use than a particularly emotional one, but there is little practical use to naming a goldfish. Is it not, then, purely an emotional exercise on your part?
Naming not only guarantees affection, but guarantees affection through personification. There’s an interesting question here on why we feel the need to make goldfish – and, following the same thread, cameras – more human. (I’m fairly sure there’s a lot I could read on the human psyche and various Freudian theories, and I think the answer could be something along the lines of Homo sapiens believing that they, above all other species, reign supreme, and so bestowing human traits on things which are not human turns out to be affection mingled with pity.) But I digress. Ultimately, though, I think my camera has been named out of affection and my own want to humanise it.
Why did I feel affection towards it and want to humanise it in the first place, though? I suppose for a similar reason that Anne Frank named her diary 'Kitty'. Because through my camera I have found a way to express things outwardly which I have kept inwardly. It is the means by which I can create, and for that I feel indebted? It has travelled almost everywhere with me, has helped me capture moments which I am so glad to have recorded, and has seen me in times when I wanted no one else to see me (paradoxically, for a machine which produces and reproduces images for public distribution: there’s a blogpost I have still to write) Yet through all of that, it does not judge me. I’d like a friend, a human friend, like Aspen.
Because she has a name, she is officially more important than she was before she had a name. And if she is more important, then that which I create with her – to me – becomes more important. Or, at least, more justified. Oh yes: that which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet, but while my Flickr profile states I create with a Nikon D40, the truth is that I create with Aspen: and we create together. If I didn’t believe that, my photography would not be half what it is.
You don’t name a camera for its sake. Of course not, that would be ridiculous; Aspen has no brain or emotion or consciousness. You name it for your own sake – for the sake of what you are doing. You name it because without a name (and everything that comes with a name) for your instrument, that which you create with it becomes of less importance.
And if you’re wondering why ‘Aspen’ in particular, I’ll write another blogpost soon.
Sunday, 19 September 2010
I didn't have a birthday party back in March, so on September 18th, six months later, my friends and I went into the city to celebrate my 18th-and-a-half unbirthday. We met in Costa (the way we always have, and for the last time before we go our separate uni ways) and then walked to a quaint little Italian. I chose the lasagne and finished with scrumptious chocolate cake, we talked about the summer and things to come, and then we went back to mine. Kim and Lottie had baked me birthday cupcakes, complete with candles and singing, and it was perfect. The most wonderful moment of the evening, though, was when, sitting around the table in Pinocchio's before dessert, they gave me a present.
A few months ago, I lost - and then found - a bracelet which meant a lot to me. Not so long ago it went missing again, and I'm fairly certain it is somewhere on the campus of my university-to-be, and I will almost certainly never find it. Upset as I've been, the peace I made when I first lost it at the beginning of summer has stayed with me and I have come to terms with no longer having it.
However, unbeknown to me, as a gift for my unbirthday Jonny suggested my friends club together and buy me something of a replacement. What they gave me tonight was a silver charm bracelet, picked out by Alice, with six tiny charms chosen by the eleven of them together. Each one, Alice said, represents a part of me. A book, a pair of ballet shoes, a camera, a pot of pens, a violin, and a star.
What they could not know was that this bracelet not only lets me carry a part of myself, as my last one did, but also a part of each of them; my friends who thought of the idea and chose each charm. Now that summer is over and we have started to go our separate ways I am realising again how extraordinarily lucky I am to have friends like these in my life. This summer has been wonderful, and such a large part of it has been down to them. I have never been given such a beautiful, perfect gift.