There is a piece in Lord of the Rings about a conversation between one of the Ents (who guard and protect the forests) and two of the Hobbits, Merry and Pippin. It is a conversation about names. Treebeard, the Ent, won’t tell the Hobbits his name. He tells them “For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language…” This seems to me to be akin to the idea that we all have two names. A “given”, public one and a hidden “real” name which we should treasure and not give away lightly. Padraig O Tuama in his book “In the Shelter” comments that “To be named is to be summoned into being, and to name is to participate in this project of living.”
Hearing names and learning their meaning is part of my work as a counsellor. Often my patients will come and say “I’m not really sure why I’m here but…” Between us we try to fill in the missing words. We discover, in this process of naming, that some things are easier to name than others. It is not too difficult to name Love or Joy or Care. Words like Hate, Envy, Despair take more effort because they are hidden. We are uncomfortable with the idea that we can Hate someone or something. We want to use softer words and phrases. “I don’t like that person”. Or “I find that difficult.” These are ways of hiding ourselves from ourselves- with sometimes disastrous consequences. The writer of one of the Psalms says”You desire truth in the inward parts.” (Psalm 51:6) This seems to accord with Freud’s maxim that one aspect of psychoanalysis was “to make conscious the unconscious”. Both writers seem to be calling for an inner integrity that allows us to correctly name the various parts of ourselves.
One of the advantages of naming something is that it then has an identity. It can be scary to know something’s identity but, it seems to me, it is even more frightening not to know something’s identity. A patient spoke of her nightmares as a child. Her dreams were full of unnamed things that were set on hurting her. These things were never named and the nameless dread has transferred itself to her adult life. Some of our work together will be to name the things and to try to understand where they come from. And by naming them to give her back some control. Naming things seems to me to be something empowering and life affirming-even if the name is Cancer or similar. If I know something’s name I can manage it.