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Chapter 3 Naming the Deceased: Basic Identity My name is the symbol of my identity and must not be lost. —Lucy Stone, c. 18551 Some day we will realize that it is quite absurd for newspapers to give account of events that take place in the Women’s Club and list those who attend as: Mmes. Richard Tucker, Lloyd Wright, Pablo Picasso, and Lawrence Olivier. —Key 1975:48 How many times a day do we identify ourselves to others by name? Probably more often than we think. We do so in introducing ourselves to others, making appointments, and signing checks, among a host of other activities we perform. How many times do we refer to other people by their names, be it in their presence or in their absence? Probably more often than we refer to ourselves. When we ask, “Who are you?” most people would respond by giving their name. Their response signifies that their name is a symbol of their identity. It is hard to conceive of a world without names. Children are given a name days after they are born; sometimes names are chosen even before birth. Even pets are given names—perhaps it is the first thing we do to animals when we make them pets. We teach them to respond to their name, that is, identify with it. When children play, the first thing they ask of each other is their name, as though without this knowledge they remain unknown and perhaps dangerous to play with. If play is a form of association among children (intimate or at least friendly), it is enhanced by knowing the other’s name. The sharing of names, themselves symbolic of selfhood, represents an invitation to familiarity, which for the child implies play.2 119 120 Chapter 3 Personal names are labels that represent, in some sense, a person’s basic identity. Other labels such as nicknames, teknonyms, and those referring to a person’s status, social and professional, represent identities acquired during a person’s lifetime.3 Some are relatively temporal and may be subsequently discarded (for example, nicknames); others are more permanent—once acquired they usually remain part of a person’s identification for life, and perhaps even after death (for example, religious titles). We begin with a discussion of personal names as symbolic of an individual’s basic identity, situating the discussion within the context of naming conventions in Arabic, Persian, and English. We then turn to the analysis of the obituaries and variation in the identification of the deceased through personal names across these three cultures and over the fifty-year period. In the final section we relate results from the analysis of naming the deceased in the obituaries to patterns of naming in other sociocultural contexts outside the obituaries and to issues of visibility and gender equity pursuant to our earlier analysis of women, men, and public space. The discussion further develops our investigation into the status of the obituary pages as being reflective (vis-à-vis their being independent) of the sociocultural context of the world outside them. 1. NAME AS BASIC IDENTITY All human societies bestow personal names on their members, thus making names an indisputable cultural universal.4 Naming conventions are centered on a person’s given (or first) name, middle name, and surname (last or family name). The literature, however, reflects tremendous cross-cultural variation therein. (See in this respect Adler 1978; Alford 1988; and Smith 1985, among others.) Alford’s study of naming practices in sixty societies chosen from across the globe outlines five areas where variation was found: In some societies, individuals receive a single given name; while in others, individuals receive one or more given names, along with one or more patronyms, matronyms, or surnames. Names are bestowed according to a rigid timetable in some societies; while in others, weeks, months, or even years may pass before a child is given a name. In some societies personal names are very diverse and serve well to distinguish different individuals; while in other societies, a small stock of conventional personal names is Names 121 applied to a large number of individuals, and personal names cannot clearly distinguish particular individuals. In some societies, individuals receive their given names at birth and use these same names throughout their lives; while in other societies, individuals traditionally change their names at important points in their lives. And, finally, in some societies, personal names are freely used in social interaction; while...


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