What’s in a name

The practice of non-naming has historically come hand-in-hand with the belief that a person’s name is more than a conventional means of identification. A name, rather, was seen as symbolizing a person’s core identity, or soul.

In a bid to ensure that the enemy would not conquer and steal their souls in battle, or that the enemy would not assault them with voodoo naming schemes, tribe members often used two names: one for public use and another for private use, which was also their real name. Many ancient peoples, like the Canaanites for example, would not reveal the names of their gods and instead referred to them all as Baal. So did the Israelites, until Yahweh revealed himself to Moses on Mount Horeb with a rather vague: “I am who I am.”

Humanity may progress, but both the private and the public domain will always be influenced by remnants of prejudice, mysticism and irrationality. Take Greek politics for example. Here, the technique of non-naming has been elevated to strategy but the basic motive remains the same as in ancient times: fear. Our politicians may use a wide range of vitriolic verbs and adjectives, but they are not so good when it comes to names – even more so when fear is injected with self-interest. As a result, you will often hear politicians say in Parliament or on TV, “don’t make me open my mouth,” though it rarely goes any further than an unfulfilled threat.

Instead of hearing actual names, we hear politicians refer to “certain,” “several” or “specific” people. So, “certain” people allegedly set up extra-institutional power centers, “certain” people are behind decision-making (which only seem to be a problem for politicians in the opposition), “certain” people made a fortune (on the Athens bourse or during the Olympic Games) and “certain” people are squandering public wealth.

Indiscriminately using the term “certain” like that, of course, is almost like saying “nobody.”

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras used the same tactic when he spoke of Greece’s neo-Nazis, without ever once mentioning Golden Dawn. It could be interpreted as a coincidence had the premier’s aides not suggested that Samaras did not refer to Golden Dawn by name in order to avoid engaging in a direct confrontation. But this is what politics is all about: How a prime minister understands his role. If Samaras sees himself as a party leader who manages power with the sole aim of maintaining power then, yes, he will not engage “in a direct confrontation” because all votes count the same after all. If, however, he sees his office as something bigger than this and, more importantly, if he deems that GD is an open wound and not just a reservoir of votes, then he would agree that taking on the far-right party is a top priority. To do so, though, he must start by calling it by name.