Monday, 2 January 2012
Names and Looks
In Henry IV Part II, Shakespeare has the future king say of his working-class friend Ned Poins, "What a disgrace it is to remember thy name!", referring to the habit of those possessed with an inflated opinion of themselves of pretending to forget someone's name when it suits.
This type of practice is a fertile source of laughs in The Black Adder, where Edmund's father, played by Brian Blessed, makes a point of calling his second-born son "Edwin", "Egbert" and "Osmond", when he's not calling him "the other one" or "the slimy one".
Another common practice of those seeking to assert their self-assigned place in a notional pecking order is simply not to use another's name at all when conversing with him or her, even when they know it perfectly well. Somone wasn't so far off the mark when they said that you can tell who your friends are because they're the ones who include your name when they talk to you. Perhaps. But it's also true that there are some people whose conversational style and overall personality mean that they virtually never use their interlocutor's name, whoever he or she may be.
A new twist on the naming game was suggested to me by a recent reading of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, where the author writes, "But nevertheless, the fact remained, it was almost impossible to dislike anyone if one looked at them."
On reflection, this would appear to be another shibboleth that's not so very wide of the mark.