Name Plate


My friend Edie is a Namer. If you’re a fan of Madeleine L’Engle, you know what an important thing that is. When I was experiencing some friction lately in another relationship, Edie said, “Be careful how you Name her. Don’t X her.”

L’Engle’s book The Wind in the Door is a supernatural-fantasy-thriller in which the young protagonist, Meg, is caught up in a contest between the forces of good and evil. Her guide Proginoskes introduces her to the enemy—the Echthroi:

“I think your mythology would call them fallen angels. War and hate are their business, and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming—making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate… When everyone is really and truly Named, then the Echthroi will be vanquished.”

Meg is enlisted as an apprentice Namer, and given the task of Naming the school principal, with whom she has a lot of bad history.

Meg said, unhappily, “If I hate Mr. Jenkins whenever I think of him, am I Naming him?”

Proginoskes shifted his wings. “You’re Xing him, just like the Echthroi.”

The key to Naming is love, because it’s love that enables people to be who they really are. As Proginoskes tells Meg:

“When I was memorizing the names of the stars, part of the purpose was to help them each to be more particularly the particular star each one was supposed to be. That’s basically a Namer’s job. Maybe you’re supposed to make earthlings feel more human.”

Edie is a Namer. She’s had people try to un-Name her, to thrust on her an identity at odds with who she really is. And she’s spent most of her life Naming people whom society has tried to X: young people, people with various disabilities and differences, people outside the mainstream. She creates safe space for people to be themselves, and she does this by loving them—by giving them unconditional legitimacy.

After Edie reminded me about Naming, I went to a book store to get The Wind in the Door. A guy outside was selling Real Change, the “street newspaper” sold mostly by homeless people. As we chatted, he mentioned that he was struggling with the dialogue in a story he was working on, and I said, “Oh, you’re a creative person.” He looked away and said, “There are so many creative people in Seattle.” I answered, “Don’t worry about their stories. Tell your stories.”

As I walked away, it occurred to me that I’d helped Name this man: “Creative.” But I didn’t impose that Name on him. I listened to the name he was shy about claiming, and affirmed it. This is what Edie does, and in doing it, she gives people permission to be who they really are. I think this is part of how we can avoid Xing people, even in the heat of battle, even when we may have to speak uncomfortable truths to them.

The second Commandment requires us to reverence the name of God. I think Commandment 2a is this: “Thou shalt not mess with the names of others.”