There is a theme which runs through quite a few fantasy books that if you find someone’s true name you get unlimited power over them, that all names have power and we should be careful to whom we divulge our name. This is of course fantasy, but like everything there is a core of truth to these fantasies. A person’s name does have power, it has far more power than most people can readily imagine but nonetheless it exists. At this point if you are doubting me then tell me you don’t feel an instant urge to hide when your mother calls you by your full name, in that special tone of voice.
When we are born the name given to us becomes our tag, the thing someone tugs to gain our attention. It starts with our parents, when they want us to come, stop, act or listen they will use our name. Our siblings start next, uncles, aunts, grandparents, then our friends, our teachers and so on. At every stage our brain registers that when our name is said someone wants our attention, someone is focusing their attention on us. When we hear our name we turn towards the speaker, it’s been ingrained in us so long it’s instinctual. It even causes us cognitive dissonance when someone else uses our name to call someone else. It takes us a few seconds to realize they aren’t talking to us.
By the time we reach adulthood there is a whole social dynamic now attached to our name. When someone uses our name we know they know us. The tone they use when they say it indicates how well they know us. The facial expressions someone uses tells us what they think of us when they say our name, the number of times they use our name tells us how important we are in any particular conversation. This is where the true power of someone’s name can be found.
The first time you meet someone and ask their name it’s a test. When given a person’s name they have given you permission to think of them as an individual, as someone different from a random stranger. Their test is this – are they special enough to remember the next time you meet them. When you say someone’s name the next time you greet them you have told that person they were important enough to remember, they were special enough for you to take note of them. I can almost guarantee you have just made an acquaintance with the possibility of a more meaningful relationship in the future, whether it be business, friendship or relationship. Unless you act in a negative manner you will now always be associated in that persons memory as someone who took the time to remember who they were. Is this not power, the power to rewrite that first impression.
When you use someone’s name in a conversation you are pulling that tag of theirs. You are making them turn towards you every time their name is mentioned. Even if they aren’t listening, even if they are involved in another conversation, the minute you say a person’s name they will drop their current conversation and turn towards you. Teachers use this to great effect in a classroom but it doesn’t have to be used in an authoritative way. Depending on the context of the conversation if you say their name followed with talk filled with pride, happiness, disappointment or shame they will hear it. When they turn their attention to you they will immediately pick up on the feelings you have associated their name with. The use of their name will ensure they will remember how you made them feel. Is this not power, the ability to directly purvey your feelings to someone.
When we say a person’s name we are telling those who listen how important they are to us. If that person is in the conversation they will most certainly pick up on this. With every mention of their name they will turn towards you, they will remember how you make them feel and the frequency will denote their importance to you in the context of how you have made them feel. If you instill a series of positive feelings in someone with every mention of their name by the end of the conversation they will be under a very real impression you are connected to them in a positive way. Is this not power, the power to shape the way people think you view them.
Charismatic people are often described as entering a room and making the person they are talking to feel like the most important person in the room. Watch these charismatic people; they know the power of someone’s name, your name will be the first thing they ask for, it will be the last thing they say as they leave, and almost every question they ask will use your name. “So Mike, tell me what brings you here?” “Does your family live here, Jane?” Every use of your name is screaming your importance, yelling out just how special you are, every utterance saying I am listening to you and you alone, turn towards me and tell me your story. A person’s name is the doorway into their world; a person’s name has the power to open a connection into their world, a connection to show them who you are, a connection to pass your feelings of that person through and a connection to show them how you see them. A person’s name has power over them, more than you might think, but always remember they know your name too.
Photo: Flickr/Search Engine People Blog
*A minstrel was a medieval European bard who performed songs whose lyrics told stories of distant places or of existing or imaginary historical events. Although minstrels created their own tales, often they would memorize and embellish the works of others. The Modern Minstrel observes the world around him and shares it with us as lyrical story. This series was inspired by Luke Davis, whose eye for story and ear for lyrical prose are featured here.
Also by Luke Davis
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