Shakespeare asked this question, commenting “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This is spoken by Juliet in the play Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is lamenting the fact that the Romeo she loves is a Montague, the family that her own Capulet family is in feud with.
’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. [Act 2, scene 2]
Romeo would still be Romeo without that title: in other words, if he were not a member of the enemy family. Yet, is this true?
The phrase “a rose by any other name” has become part of common speech and reinforces the idea that it does not really matter what something is called, what matters is the essential substance of the thing itself. There is some truth in this philosophy, but it is only one side of the coin. Names and the choice of words that we make in describing something do have an influence and this influence can sometimes make a crucial difference. During the period of the war in Iraq I happened to be travelling and as a result saw a particular incident reported on TV in three different countries. One party in the incident were differently labelled in the different broadcasts. In the USA they were referred to as “the terrorists”; in the UK they were referred to as ‘the insurgents”; and in France they were called “la résistance”. These labellings made a huge difference to the way in which the watcher was likely to understand the report.
In Buddhism, the term rupa is often extended to nama-rupa. Nama means name or noun. A name is a special kind of rupa. The name is not the thing it names, but it is its indicator. The name is a rupa in that it triggers the same response that we have to the thing itself. However, names also have an additional effect because the name itself has a meaning and an affective tone.
The meaning of a name can have a wide ranging effect. Meanings have many associations. My mother’s name was Irene. Irene was the goddess of peace in Greek mythology. My mother was certainly a peacemaker in the family, perhaps sometimes too much so. She took it as her mission to pacify any dispute or “unnecessary unpleasantness” that might occur. This was her strength and her weakness. This is often the case.
My own given name, David, means beloved, especially, beloved of God. It is the most common name in the bible. Romance and religion have certainly been big themes in my life.
In Buddhism, ordainees receive a new name. This is something to live up to. The name may reflect an aspect of Buddhist teaching or it may be the name of a saintly figure from the past. Studying the life of an exemplar from the past can be an important element in spiritual cultivation.
The names Montague and Capulet probably seem just meaningless words to the modern reader, but to the audience of Shakespeare’s day, more familiar with French, the allusion to sexual roles in Romeo being the pointed mountain (mont aiguë) and Juliet being a cape or cloak to wrap around it, would not be lost.
The lives of individuals are often significantly influenced by their name. Think about your own name, both the personal name and the family name. What does it mean? Who gave you your name? What is their message to you in giving you this name? Such questions can sometimes be revealing.
Names also crop up in popular songs and stories. My mother was certainly touched by the fact that when she was coming of age there was a very popular song that had the refrain “Good night, Irene, goodnight, Irene, I’ll see you in my dreams” which gave a particularly romantic twist to her image just at the time she was meeting my father, Kenneth, whose name, incidentally, means handsome. Again, one could not have the name Romeo today without being influenced by the play and its associations. Some Spanish men are called Jesus - a lot to live up to. The name Juliet, related to Julius, originally meant child of Jove, the king of the gods.
So probably Romeo might not have retained that dear perfection which he owes if he had had a different title. Romeo, related to Romulus, the founding hero of Rome, from the family of the pointed mountain, would have been shaped at least in some degree by the labels that were all his life attached to him.
In a similar way, our clients have been affected by their names. Their attitudes to the people around them have also been affected by the names that those significant others were known by. This is a significant dimension that the therapist needs to take into account.
Similarly, the therapist is sensitive to the choice of words that the client makes in describing something. The English language is full of near synonyms that nonetheless have different emotional associations. Getting exactly the right word may have a releasing effect. The word accesses material. Rupas open gates to the psyche and words are rupas; getting le mot juste can be like a key to the gate.
This means that it is not just a matter of using the right word; it is also a matter of, as it were, holding the word before the client. While the client remains mindful of the key word there will come with it key images, key emotions, key meanings and an unfolding sequence of associations that does the work of therapy. The therapist does not need to interpret, so much as simply keep the door open.
If a client uses what seems like a powerful word, it is worth repetition. The fact that it popped out of the client’s mouth tells us that it is a door and that behind that door there is something energetic. Sometimes it pays to repeat such power words several times so as to keep the client focussed on the important material that is associated.
I am reading a book on translation that has some interesting reflections. Here’s a quote near the start of the book that might be relevant to what you are saying.
“C.K. Ogden, the famously eccentric co-author of The Meaning of Meaning, believed that much of the world’s troubles could be ascribed to the illusion that a thing exists just because we have a word for it. He called this phenomenon ‘Word Magic’... ...These words aren’t outright fictions, but illusions licensed and created by the lexicon. In Ogden‘s view, Word Magic is what makes us lazy. It stops us from questioning the assumptions that are hidden in words and leads us to allow words to manipulate our minds. It is in this sense that we need to ask: does ‘translation’ exist?” —p.21 Is That a Fish in Your Ear
Whether and how words get attached to concepts and turned into rupa is not a straightforward process. But certainly they can help create the rupa themseves. A cat has rupa as well, but a cat’s rupa seems likely to be less delusional than human created rupa. Words seem well indicated in this creating process for better or for worse. How many of us stop looking at what is in front of it when presented with a name: oak tree, acorn, leaf... the word holds a great deal of meaning if we have studied oak trees but can keep us from really looking at the tree in front of us, seeing it’s greeness, it movement, its patterns of shadow and light.
Perhaps the therapist is, then, a kind of translator— translating from the words the client uses, back to the event or emotion or meaning that was captured in the words. As this book points out, it is certainly not an exact science and, likely, is bound to be a kind of creation as well. Does the therapist help both translate and create better rupa, a better world over time? Can the therapist, assisted by language free the client from the world he or she has created possibly without any real awareness of the process.?
Rupas multiply. I'm not sure that those of a cat will be any less delusional. We might evn be flattering ourselves if we think they are less complex. A cat probably has a whole universe of smell rupas that we lost somewhere back in evolution. When we are "questioning the assumptions that are hidden in words" we do not thereby necessarily avoid being manipulated by them - sometimes the opposite. Questioning is a word game too. The idea that by being rational one can avoid being manipulated is a fallacy since rationality always rests on some sort of irrational base. You have to have axioms in order to logic. A therapist might be a translator or might aid a translation process and might add or subtract word rupas and non-verbal rupas. Interesting area to think about, though one should not forget that rupa is also a rupa.
“A rose is a rose is a rose....”. Gertrude Stein; “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” — W.S. And a ”rupa is also a rupa” is also a rupa, and so on... funny to think of the relationship between the abstractions of words, and what might perhaps be thought of as the abstraction of rupa, and an actual smell. But is there an actual smell? There is the sense organ’s response — different in human, dog, cat, dragonfly... Then there is the cognizing of the experience of the smell... the skanda cycle.. Clearly pointing in the general direction of these ideas is as much as we’re going to get away with... I have a sense, though, that humans are far more subject to rupic distortion than any other species. Some of rupa formation is, of course, part of our evolutionary survival heritage. We eat something that makes us sick. Thereafter the taste of that food immediately conjures a rupa with a negative emotion... this is useful. We don’t have to go through some complex algorithmic calculation to know not to eat it... we “see”. As a rupa it is now “real”. We have “real”ized it... this kind of rupa formation we share to some degree with every sentient being. But humans also “realize”, make real, things which it is unhelpful to make real. An extreme example is someone suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. The person has a rupa or rupas that are almost completely discontinuous from verifiable reality but, as rupas, they are very real to the schizophrenic. We build a world of rupas to live in, they allow us to function quickly and efficiently in many cases, but when malformed, they can do the opposite. And clearly humans do a lot of that kind of rupa malformation. An unfortunate offshoot of the creative flexibility of rupa creation that allows complex problem solving and experimentation. (That might be another whole area of exploration)
Thinking, too, of societal rupas and how they could be helpful or damaging. In a posting I read of yours, you commented that identity was largely relational. I’ve been thinking about this wrt my own situation (being isolated in the country) but it also applies to how society directs rupa formation — and how social change requires a change of rupa, so to speak... to respond to climate change, for example, we need to change our rupas in order to change our behaviour. For a long time many had a belief/rupa of the world as an infinite collection of stuff, all there to be used and transformed for man’s needs and whims. Now there is overwhelming evidence that this is a delude view. But until we change our collective view/rupa we will lack the political will to make the needed changed in actions. Evolutionarily we are built in a way that allows easy formation of certain types of rupas, usually ones that were needed in a tribal society. In a plantary society we need a new set of rupas — call them second order rupas— and we are not wired to build there so it is a struggle because we cannot see what we cannot see... in that sense a rupa is something created in such a way as to be seen. Hence the designation of it as object, as form , as belief, as perspective and as viewing lens. Sometimes maybe rupa is a map... it is so all-encompassing as a conceot that it can be seen to contain just about anything...
The rupas of a schizophrenic are over strongly distorted by the ego complex - which is also a rupa.
To understnd another person is to implicitly have arrived at some sort of map of their rupas.
Political change generally comes about via the establishment of new rupas or a change in the way that existing ones are construed. This is why small critical incidents can become tipping points if they crystalise a new perspective on an already widely influential rupa.