What’s In a Name?

Henry David Thoreau, in his essay “Walking”, discusses the importance (or lack-there-of) of having a name. For example, my name Sara, taken from biblical context of Abraham’s wife, Sarai, was given to me when I was born by my parents. It even says my full legal name on my birth certificate that I am indeed called Sara. However, Thoreau believes that “there is nothing in a name” (108). Man can be individualized by his race, character, or other variety, but a name doesn’t tell an outsider much about a person besides having a label. A name is merely a tag given to a person, but a familiar name won’t make a person any more familiar to a stranger. Thoreau says that a name doesn’t help to make distinctions of a person.

So, is he basically saying that I am worthless? I am not sure which stance Thoreau is taking, but to me it seems as if he is inexplicitly stating that man is made equal by name, but gains his individuality by personality, characteristics (physical and emotional), and other features. Therefore, I shouldn’t be identified as just being “Sara”: you can now call me “loud and obnoxious”.



4 responses to “What’s In a Name?

  1. Sara,
    Yes I agree, I am a little bit confused too. My question is, how are we going to identify each other in this world without a name? It would just make things way slower and harder for anything. I do not thinking giving names to people is bad or “does not help distinctions of a person.”

  2. I haven’t read the essay yet, but from what you said I agree with Thoreau to an extent. When you hear someone’s name and you don’t know them, it means nothing to you. So in the aspect, I do agree. But after you get to know someone, hearing their name makes you think of all of the characteristics and traits that a person has that makes them who they are. In this aspect, a person is their name. If we were to call someone by a certain characteristic only, then people would only associate that one characteristic with them. I’m sure you have many more traits than being loud and obnoxious, so I don’t think we should just call you that. Besides, there’s many people out there with similar characteristics, so it would be easier to confuse people compared to using their first and last name.

  3. HI there, reporting from Concord, Mass, and about 200 yards from Walden Pond. Thoreau may have said that about names, but did you know he changed his name from David Henry Thoreau to Henry David Thoreau? He hated the name David, so obviously names meant something to him. Meanwhile I’m a huge HDT (formerly DHT fan). Louisa

  4. In the movie Into the Wild, he talks about himself being defined by a name and things being named for a reason. People are given reason, which differentiates us from nature. Giving people names organizes and characterizes things that are beneficial to humans. We are the ones who created language and nature doesn’t speak that language. So what is there in a name but what humans give it.

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