The Naming of a Thing

“In death, a member of Project Mayhem has a name. His name is Robert Paulson.”

(Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk)

I love this scene from Fight Club: despite the absurdity of herd mentality, it demonstrates the power of naming.  In the film’s case, it is making something real. Bob had a name while in the support group, but then didn’t have a name while working for Project Mayhem–a name being something that identifies someone from someone else. He was an indiscrete part of a whole, a non-entity in his own right.

Despite the soldiers’ misunderstanding of the Narrator’s point (I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise), naming made Robert Paulson a man.

When we hear stories of tragedies, the name of the perpetrator is blasted all over the news. Whether it’s a named hurricane or a shooter, pictures are broadcast, over and over and over, and a name is attached to the picture for all the world to see.

It creates a focus on the perpetrator, creates a celebrity out of a disaster or a terrorist.  And the media feeds off each other, adding to the cacophony of misplaced attention. The new-found celebrity, even while condemned, is constantly celebrated just by the constant naming.

Before 2005, Katrina was nothing more than a girl’s name.  After August 2005, it became a demarcation: those of us affected by it measured time, not in years, but by pre-Katrina and post-Katrina.

“When did I start this job? It was before Katrina.”

“Well, they rebuilt the house after Katrina.”

Every hurricane season, we hold our collective breaths: is this storm going to be another Katrina?

I find myself avoiding people named Katrina. I don’t mean to do it. It just happens.

It’s like a stab in the heart when I hear that name–a stab that has been reduced over the years from a shashka-gale weapon to a pin prick, but it’s still there. As time has passed, it has been less “Katrina” and more “the storm.”

It’s a reflection of the pin-prick and not the sword, the softening of the blow.


There is power in a name. There is power granted by the naming of a thing.

With the massacre of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church this week, the name of the shooter has been all over the news. Every news story in my Facebook feed about it leads with a picture of a white male with dead eyes.

I refuse to add to that.

Instead, I want to name the victims:

  • Cynthia Hurd
  • Susie Jackson
  • Ethel Lance
  • Reverend Depayne Middleton-Doctor
  • Reverend Clementa Pinckney
  • Tywanza Sanders
  • Reverend Daniel Simmons, Sr.
  • Reverend Sharonda Singleton
  • Myra Thompson

Despite the God-awful pop ups and epileptic-fit triggering ads (trigger warning, proceed at your own risk, but I’d suggest avoiding if you’re on steroids–o! rage rage at the idiotic ads) here’s a great article that gives a little bit of background on all nine.

I am still too shaken up by it, too confused and disorderly in my mind to coherently speak of it.

Luckily, Jon Stewart did it for me. 

Because I can’t

So I name them.

And I hope you will, too.

(Image from photobucket from the movie Fight Club.)


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