What is a legitimate name?

Some more thoughts on the identity issue…

I’ve heard a lot of people mix two terms together interchangeably: “real” name, “legitimate” name. I think the etymology of the word “legitimate” is interesting. It stems from “legitimare”, or “to make legal.” Another word which stems from this is “legislate”, and all these words, to me, have specific meanings, all joined by one very specific and powerful word: “law.”

The other interesting facet of this is the multiple natures of law: you have written law, the spirit of the law, and interpretations of the law. Following the written law, or the “letter of the law”, carries an implication that you must conform to what the words mean. In a sense, it’s a legal version of a religious fundamentalist. The spirit of the law involves someone who might not be completely in line with what the law demands, but is trying to do what they think is “the right thing.” A common example is a man who runs a red light to get his wife to the emergency room. Interpretations of the law, also known as case law, demonstrate an attempt to retain the grip of the law while both respecting changes in societal standards, as well as changes in the meanings of words themselves.

Given that we have these multiple natures which constitute the structures of law, it seems that the meaning of the word “legitimate” also has multiple natures. Most people I have asked about this to suggest that a “legitimate” name is one that seems real, or is similar to names they already know. To me, this suggests an element of familiarity, which begs yet another question: how do we establish what names are familiar? One could extend this and ask what words are names, and what words not? We build up a lexicon of this over time, and it varies based on cultures.

For example, someone who grew up in Germany probably has a different sense of what is a “real” name than someone who grew up in Russia, or someone who grew up in a America. And yet, there are patterns within these names that help us identify them to which culture they are from, which semi-legitimizes them. For example, names ending with a “v” such as “Rostov” or “Kruschev” sound to me like they are Russian or Eastern-European. This is a pattern I learned somehow, and a pattern other people seem to also be familiar with. So where do these patterns come from?

There is a phenomenological branch of this, where we could look at the sounds of words and their relations over time, which probably starts to answer the question. Also consider that I might hear a name pronounced in a different accent, and thus recognize the name, but also recognize it is spoken in a different tongue than I am used to. I may consider this less legitimate, possibly because I view the foreign accent as a lower class than my own? To those who contest this, think of the relief in getting an American tech support agent after talking with 5 Indians ones who barely speak English. I’m not saying it’s justified, I’m simply saying it is there.

I think now of the contrast between known and unknown, familiar and unfamiliar. When you look at something and recognize it, it touches on the known and familiar instincts, which I suspect we might equate to a sense of good, safe, etc. The unknown and uncertain brings risk, which raises the fearful question “how do I know what is real?” The unknown elements remove structures we can grab onto, whereas something recognizable and familiar allows us to have a sort of emotional grounding. It is similar to the fear (for example) of starting a new job and not knowing anyone; as the days go by, you start learning peoples traits, the layout of the office, etc, and things become more familiar.

I sense that similar instincts arise when we’re used to hearing people called by a set of names (Tom, Dick, Joe, Harry, Sarah, etc) and we hear or see a name that isn’t in that lexicon. Do we automatically become suspicious, just as a small town views a newcomer with untrusting eyes until he proves himself? And now I start to realize why it is so hard to codify this into computer systems…

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Hell’s Bells

Some thoughts on supporting our armed forces.

I am an American, and many things currently embarrass me about my country, but our military is not one of them. Let me elaborate.

I have deep, deep reservations about the state of the country. I believe there are many points where things started going downhill politically, partly because of the classification system we adopted between WW1 and WW2, partly due to the Marshall Plan, and partly due to our government establishing needless agencies as a reactionary response to events like 9/11. I believe that every President since Truman has lied to the public and betrayed the Constitution, as well as every Director of the CIA and multiple four star generals. In general, I think America is headed in a direction towards totalitarianism and suppression of the Bill of Rights, and yet these things are not what I refer to when I use the word “military.”

I have many friends who have enlisted, into all branches of the service. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, you name it. The highly structured culture of their service has changed all of them in many ways, and in some cases they are no longer people who I can relate to. But they are still people I can respect. When you join the military, you make an agreement with the government. You sign away your rights and cease to be a US citizen, as you are now a soldier. In many cases, this is a lifelong commitment, and it is putting your life on the line. Although circumstances vary based on the type of agreement you have, there is always a chance you may be called into battle, and there is always a chance, however small, you may be killed in duty.

For all the anger, frustration, and confusion I maintain towards the path of my country, that is a commitment I have never made, and one I probably shall never make. There are many things, including free speech, that I will fight for in my own way, but for all the soldiers who have dedicated themselves to what they feel or have been told is “right”, I have the utmost respect. It is difficult to express fully in words, but if you are a soldier, I thank you.