What’s in a name?

Delivered at a whole-school assembly at Streatham and Clapham High School on 15th September, 2017

Eloise, Josie, Rosie, Emily, Milana, Bella, Emma, Elodie, Keira, Leila, Maddy, Marlo, Ashali, Jemima, Thisbe, Elif, Lucy, Lily and Olivia.

These are the names of the Upper Third girls in the first class I taught this year, and from the start I was trying to learn their names. Remember, you only need to learn the name of one teacher whereas the teacher has to learn the name of the whole class! In fact, I am privileged to be teaching all of the Upper Third this year, but that is 82 names! A lot of names for me to try to remember!

Why do I bother? Why shouldn’t I just say ‘Girl, what does the accusative singular end in? Or ‘You picking your nose, what date was the Battle of Hastings?

Why not?

Because names matter to us.

But ‘What’s in a name?’

This is the famous question asked by Juliet in Act II Scene II of Shakespeare’s play ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Juliet, who is a Capulet, and Romeo, who is a Montague, belong to rival families and so their names are keeping them apart.

Juliet goes onto say, ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet’.

Juliet seems to argue that it does not matter that Romeo is from the rival house of Montague: his family name shouldn’t matter, it doesn’t affect who Romeo is and that any relationship should not be banned.

However, names do matter and the fact that Juliet is a Capulet and Romeo is a Montague ultimately leads to tragedy.

Names were particularly important in the ancient world.

Odysseus is the hero of the Greek epic poem, the Odyssey. He is very clever and knows that when he is trapped by the monstrous Cyclops, he must not give his name. Instead he says that his name is ‘No-one’.

When Odysseus and his men manage to poke out the Cyclops’ one and only eye, the Cyclops is not able to get anyone to come to his rescue because when he calls out to his fellow Cyclopes, he shouts ‘No-one is causing me harm!’ and so they don’t come.

However, when Odysseus is free and sailing away from the Cyclops, who is standing on the shore, he doesn’t want to leave without the Cyclops knowing who managed to get one over on him. Odysseus wants the glory and does not want his name to be forgotten: He says “Cyclops, if any man asks how you came by your blindness, say that Odysseus, sacker of cities, son of Laertes, a native of Ithaca, blinded you.”

He wants to be remembered and so he boastfully declares his name, and we often hear people talking about how they want their ‘name to go down in History’

However, Odysseus was actually very foolish. In the ancient world, there was a belief that knowing someone’s name gives you a certain hold or power over them and now that the Cyclops knew Odysseus’ name, he was able to put a curse on which caused Odysseus to suffer many trials on his journey home.

Therefore, it is clear that names have always been important throughout history.

Names often tell us something about the person. In Medieval times, people were often known by the job that that they did and these names come down to us today, for example, one of Mrs Baker’s ancestors was probably a baker and one of Mrs Cooper and Mrs Cowper’s ancestors was probably a barrel-maker as a ‘kup’ was a barrel.

Children are sometimes named after a quality that the parents want their child to possess such as ‘Faith’ or ‘Hope’ or they might be named after an inspirational figure from the Bible, history or literature. The name of someone that we should look up to and emulate throughout our lives.

Our new Houses have all been named after inspirational women. I am enjoying learning about the amazing things that Philippa Fawcett, Angela Carter, Winifred Knights, Beryl Paston Brown and Rosalind Franklin achieved. These women are certainly examples that we should all want to follow.

However, there is one name that we all share here in this room. One name that unites us. We all belong to the family of Streatham and Clapham High School and just like all great families, we have a crest and a motto. Our motto ‘ad sapientiam sine metu’ (Towards wisdom unafraid) summarises who we are as school and what our identity is. The motto actually condenses down one of our primary aims: ‘to empower pupils to pursue ideals and knowledge unafraid’. The word ‘sapientia’ (wisdom) is designed to encompass both the sense of ideals and knowledge.

Ideals are very important and at our school, we want everyone to pursue ideals such as justice, equality and fairness. We want people to be kind, caring and to be thinking of others. Therefore, the name of Streatham and Clapham should be synonymous with generous, thoughtful and compassionate people. Are we living up to our name?

At Streatham and Clapham, we should also be pursuing knowledge. We should be intellectually curious, avid readers, seekers of the truth. Are we living up to our name?

At Streatham and Clapham, we should seek every opportunity to pursue ideals and knowledge without fear. Are we bold, do we take risks, are we resilient? Are we living up to our name?

Always remember that we are part of one family with one name. Our name is Streatham and Clapham High School. Let us live up to our name.


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