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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What's in a name?

"Where everybody knows your name."

When I was younger, the sit com Cheers was in full swing. The song had a hook to it, but it was the aforementioned lyric that I think set the hook.

We didn't have a television the better part of my childhood, so I didn't ever watch Cheers unless I was at a friends house and we happened to be lazily surfing the 4 channels on network T.V. that were available at the time.

As I got a little older, I would catch reruns from time to time and it didn't take long to figure out why the show was sticky. The idea of going to a place--any place--and being greeted by name strikes a chord that almost catches you off guard when you're old enough to put words to the longing, or hear someone else do so.

Cheers was a basement bar in the city of Boston. It wasn't fancy. The set up was anything but club-like. It didn't appeal to the animalistic urges of the sex addict looking for an easy squeeze. It didn't draw the affluential or influential. It was a collection of random individuals from all walks of life looking for other people to talk to about their day. It wasn't anything sensational, just normal conversations usually centered on something that happened that day that each of them would casually weigh in on. As people weighed in on someone's story, it suddenly became more and more colorful and nuanced. Something that wasn't all that noteworthy would be massaged by community into something beautiful, insightful and wonderful. Norm was normal on his own, but around these unlikely friends, Norm wasn't normal anymore; he was endearing and transcendent. On our own, must of us are normal Norms.

But here's the kicker, it starts with someone knowing your name. You can't go any further until you cross over this border. We laugh at people who name-drop, but it wouldn't be a joke if it didn't hold some truth to it. When people start using names in a story, something immediately goes form generic and general to more interesting. We laugh at presidential candidates talking about "Margret from Cortland, N.Y. who's struggling to afford insurance as a single mother of 14", but the reason they are using this ploy is because we are suckers for it. And this is why names mean the world, because names represent a narrative. When you move from plastic names like "buddy, champ, legend, dude, and bro" to "Harry, Chandler, Kyle, Sam, or Tristin" something extraordinary happens in the eco-system of relational connection that unlocks the heart.

Knowing someone on a "first-name" basis is the cornerstone of influence. You can impress people in a nameless world, but influencing people requires name-recognition. Names lead to narratives. It's that simple.

I know this, because when I don't know a person's name, I can scarcely tell you a darn thing about their life. If I can, it's fact-based recall. It's hear-say typically. But as I lock in someone's name, their face loosens, their eyes light up and they share with more detail and drama. When I utter a person's name, it somehow tells them I'm interested in them and that they can share more freely without the internal time clock warning them that someone is about to say, "I'll let you go."

A person's name matters immeasurably.

I need to work on this. WE need to work on this as humans. We are losing this art of naming people. Not name-calling, name recalling.

We must stop accepting the label of community without the knowledge of names. You can't have real community aside from real people knowing other real people's names.

The end.

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