Friday, July 24, 2009

A Quick Word... On Names

This morning I was going for my (theoretically) daily wander through Trevallyn and the Gorge, when I came across a small white terrier that had taken itself for a walk. Given that I've been listening to alot of Foy Vance recently, in particular the song 'Indiscriminate Act of Kindness', (a song of which the subject matter should be pretty obvious from the title even if you've never heard it,) I decided I couldn't just let the dog wander around until it eventually stumbled onto the road and was squashed into a ham steak, and instead had to fulfill my duty as a moral citizen and try and find out from it's tag where the mutt lived, and leas it back there.

I gave the dog a quick whistle, as I'd learn in my Attention Seeking Tactics For The Canine Genus 101 handbook to do, and the dog spun around. Tentatively stepping closer, I bent down, reached my hand forward, and, once again seeking tips from my knowledge of the ASTFTCG Handbook whispered 'Here pup pup pup'. Naturally, as the aforementioned book didn't exist, and if it did I certainly hadn't read it and had know idea what I was acutally doing, the dog started to run. And run. And run. Halfway round the block it ran up someone's driveway. Stepping up to the front door and giving the bell a ring, a dark haired lady with a toddler attached to her hip casually opened the large red door, and gave me the understandable but slightly unsettling look of who the hell are you, and what are you trying to sell me?

Luckily the fact that I wasn't wearing a Jehovah's Witnesses badge, or carrying a karate sign-up clipboard, gave me enough time before the door was slammed in my face to explain that I had been trying to check a dogs collar that had escaped around the corner, and it had seemed to run somewhere back here. After ascertaining that - yes - it definitely was this family's dog, the lady called out:


To which the dog poked it's head around the corner of the house.

"Jess! What are you doing? Come in here you silly old thing."

To which the dog padded up the stairs, down the hall, and into it's bed, to sleep out the rest of the day after it's wild adventure.

So after some muttered thanks I left, and began to wonder how simple and easy my whole venture would've been if I had just been able to say the dog's name myself. To which I wondered: How does a dog KNOW it's name?

And then I realised that of course a dog doesn't recognise it's name as a name. It associates the sound it hears with familiarity, affection, love and goodwill. When we call a dogs name we are actually saying I am a friend. I will look after you. Right now your attention and presence means something to me. We would rarely call a dog to harm it, only to feed it, or pat it, and so that word, whatever it may be, is inherently linked to goodwill.

I wondered then, surely the same is true of humans? Maybe it isn't the label itself that we are attached to, it's the feelings associated with that label. This might explain how awkward it is when someone forgets your name. Or how insulting it is when someone calls you something insulting instead of it. It makes you wonder whether you still count them as one of the familiar. One of the safe.

Think about this the next time someone uses your name. Think about the fact that - not only are they are expressing a desire for your attention - but that when they call you by name they are showing you that they are familiar and friendly. They are saying you are safe with me.

And maybe then you'll realise that you are in good company, and you've found your way home.

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