This essay was shortlisted for the New Philosopher Essay Prize
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
What’s in a name? Shakespeare’s star-crossed lover once asked. What matters isn’t what a rose is called, but how it smells – something the name has no power over. Juliet is right to belittle the significance of names with regard to roses, but her real point is to suggest that the names of people – Capulets, Montagues – are equally unimportant. However, pleasant though the poetry is, the sentiment is mistaken. The difference between roses and people is in no small part the fact that human names do matter: they name a unique self.