If you’ve ever read A Wind in the Door, the first sequel to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, one of the book’s major themes is that we have the power to name things. In fact, Meg uses her positive power of naming others to help solve the major conflict of the novel.
Names and labels have power: that’s part of why being called names as a child, or by a relative or a friend, hurts so much. It’s also why studies have proven that being told a child is either bright, difficult, or impossible when they are introduced to a new teacher deeply affects how that teacher treats the child. It sets up expectations: not only in the mind of the giver, but also in the mind and heart of the person so labeled. And this happens on an almost subliminal level. It’s something from behavioral science that I used to help my crews work safely.
As a construction safety manager, and as a parent, I used this power to give positive images for people to live up to. And it worked.
Recently, we decided that our derogatory name for our cat, Tigre—who is, in all honesty, not all that bright—was something we should fix. So we consciously changed his nickname from “Stupid” to something that embodied his best self: “The Loving Cat.”
Since we did this, over the last few months the change in Tigre’s behavior has been nothing short of astonishing. He’s less hesitant, bolder, less nervous, even (dare I say it) acting a little more intelligently—at least for a creature with a vastly smaller cranium.
Today I am challenging you to examine your nicknames for people. Are you setting them up for failure? Are you giving them something to live up to?
Names matter. You are, as L’Engle wrote of Meg, a “Namer.” We all are. We should name things responsibly.