“I call everyone ‘Darling', because I can't remember their names.”
-Zsa Zsa Gabor
What’s in a name?
They’re just a bunch of letters that form words, right? Actually, names are so incredibly powerful, that the concept of “naming” has been an integral part of every culture, religion and belief system around the world. Among everything: from objects to people…pets to phenomena, names are as influential as they are immortal.
If you’ve been a faithful reader of my blogs (and I hope you have been), you may be thinking that this subject sounds familiar to you. You’re correct: I spoke about this topic in one of my very first blog entries for Coffee With Kenobi. However, because I’m so enamored with the psyche, power, and philosophy of names in general, I wanted to revisit some new ideas and personal revelations I’ve had since the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as well as some other personal a-ha moments, as represented at various points in the Star Wars saga.
“Well, I ain’t usin’ it! FN, huh? Finn…I’m gonna call you Finn!”
Of course, we remember this line in The Force Awakens. Finn introduces himself to Poe Dameron as FN-2187, a call-sign — meant to keep order and practicality — not a real name. Poe gives Finn a sort of “baptism” into his new life: a life that leaves behind all Finn has ever known, and allows him to wipe the slate clean with this whole new identity.
As Finn goes forward, he totally embraces his new name and identity. When Rey asks his name aboard the Millennium Falcon, we see him square his shoulders, smile resolutely, and say: “I’m Finn.” There is so much power in that one instant.
I was born with the first name Joyce. I’m named after my mom (which is an honor to me), but as much as I’ve always loved the name, I always wanted another way to identify myself as an individual. I was nicknamed J.J. (Joyce Junior) growing up, and eventually that morphed into Jay, or Jay Bird, as my hubby calls me. But, very few people knew to call me Jay, and I wanted that so badly!
My opportunity came when I met some amazing people through Star Wars. The first time I introduced myself as Jay was when I joined the official Star Wars online blogging group known as Hyperspace. It was such an exhilarating feeling:
Is Jay the name of my true self?
Consider this interaction between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi:
Luke: “…you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father.”
Vader: [firmly] “That name no longer has any meaning for me.”
Luke: “It is the name of your true self. You’ve only forgotten.”
To me, this exchange is so powerful. I am immediately taken back to that first fateful encounter on Tatooine, where a little boy is struggling with his sense of self, and his purpose in the galaxy:
“I'm a PERSON and my name is ANAKIN!”
At that time, he seemed so sure of himself, of the fact that he was so much more than a slave. Ironically, that little boy became the most enslaved soul of all: enslaved by the Dark Side, and enslaved by an evil emperor, who only used him to further an agenda of selfish machinations. Ironic, isn't it?
Relative to this idea, a passage in the novel Twilight Company (Alexander Freed) stuck out to me. In this passage, Hazram Namir, captain of Twilight Company, is asking his new recruits about their names:
“What’s your name?” he asked.
The girl scooted in her seat until she could look up at Namir.
“Roach,” she said.
Namir watched her. Her jaw was set. She no longer twitched. “That what you want to be called?” he asked.
Namir laughed louder than he’d intended. “More advice,” he called as he glanced at the others. “If you’ve got friends back home you want to protect, or you just feel like starting fresh? Now’s a good time to pick a new identity. No one in Twilight cares who you were, but once you make us learn a new name, you better keep it.”
One of my favorite quotes about names has some different versions floating around, but the meaning is the same:
“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. Like your name is safe in their mouth.”
I am immediately hit by the image of Padmé, struggling through the birth of her two precious twins. As she looks upon each one lovingly, and says their names as they are presented to her, a beautiful peace washes over her face. I can truly feel that love as the names of Luke and Leia are spoken – safe in her mouth and within her soul – regardless of what the galaxy's future may hold for them.
I experienced a similar feeling when Rey introduces herself to Han in The Force Awakens. The way he repeats her name, the smile on his face and the sense of adoration as he looks upon her are palpable. Although he's just become acquainted with her, its obvious that when he says her name, it's safe in his mouth.
“Ben!!” Han shouts across the catwalk…
“Han Solo. I’ve been waiting for this day a long time.”
In this short, seemingly simple exchange between father and son, Han calls out to his boy by his given name. Not Kylo Ren, a mockery – even a caricature – of his one and only child. He uses the authority in his voice that only a dad can, just like when your mom used your full and middle name, and you knew you were in for it! Instead, Ben only turns around and addresses his father by HIS given name. Not “dad,” or father. This use of Han’s name, undoubtedly was like a slap in the face and a stake to the heart. It assumes a lack – or denial – of familiar bond on Ben’s part. He has forsaken his personal born identity, and now forsakes his birthright and parentage.
When it comes to Rey, we all know that she doesn’t have a last name (surname), at least not at this point. According to a site called Behind the Name, surnames began in Europe during the 12th century, as a way to distinguish between families. Many men had the first name John, William or Richard. “To uniquely identify them, people began referring to different Williams as William the son of Andrew (leading to Anderson), William the cook (leading to Cook), William from the brook (leading to Brooks), William the brown-haired (leading to Brown), and so on. Eventually these surnames became inherited, being passed from parents to children.(1)” This also helps explain why women took on their husbands’ surnames.
So, having a last name gives a person a legacy. Often, that legacy is tied to a history. Right now, because Rey has no last name (that we know of), she can’t be “pigeon-holed” into an expected family legacy. I like this, at least right now, because I want Rey to have her OWN identity, separate from what some may stereotype her into, based on her surname.
As a teacher, I am hyper-aware of last names. I teach in a relatively small high school, with around 500 students in the building, so I get to know families and students pretty well. I’m entering into my 24th year of teaching, so I’ve had siblings of students past, and now I’m even starting to get the kids of my former students! If I see a familiar last name, I am always careful NOT to ask kids “Oh, so are you so-and-so’s sister (brother, etc.)?” I avoid this especially on the first day – or even weeks – of school. I wait until I get to know the student for him/herself, then I might plug it into a conversation. That way, I avoid any stereotyping of action, or “expected outcome” of behavior. I do this mainly because I understand first-hand why being related to someone isn’t always a welcome thing, when it comes to behavior or performance assumptions:
I am the youngest of five kids, and my brother closest in age to me kind of made himself a name for being a not-so-motivated student, and…well, let’s say he “experimented” with things. There are six years between us. I’ll never forget my first day of freshman year, sitting in Biology class, and as the teacher went through roll call, she eventually got to my name. She said it with a palpable disdain in her voice, looking up from her roster, over her glasses and said “are you _____________’s little sister?” When I answered “yes,” she rolled her eyes, gave an audible “pfft!”, and went on to the next name. I was a bit peeved at this exchange. I wanted to scream “hey, I’m not like my brother!!” But, instead, I had to prove myself to her. I had to work harder than some of my peers. I did, and eventually she started to warm up, but it was a hard row to hoe at first.
So, long story short, that’s my personal reason for my delight at Rey not having a last name – at least not yet!
Names fascinate me!!
Do you have a favorite name in Star Wars, or a musing about any of the points I’ve brought up?
I’d love to hear from you!
(1) “Family Name: Glossary.” Behind the Name. Mike and Tara Campbell, n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2016.Powered by Sidelines