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.