Today let’s pay attention to the strangeness of language. We’ll take a look at a handful of odd coincidences (collected in an article on Oddee), but the coincidences to really pay attention to are those in your own life. What is it about the power of a human name that we usually only notice when staring into the face of the bizarre and inexplicable?
What I invite you to do is rid yourself of preconceptions about language in much the way that Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) asked Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to attend to his dreams in the movie Inception. To refresh your memory, remember this dialogue from a dream-within-a-dream sequence:
[the room shakes]
Dom Cobb: You feel that? You’ve actually been trained for this Mr Fischer, pay attention to the strangeness of the weather, the shift in gravity. None of this is real, you’re in a dream.
[everyone in the bar turns to look at them]
Dom Cobb: Now the easiest way for you to test yourself is to try and remember how you’ve arrived at this hotel. Can you do that?
Robert Fischer: Yeah… I…
Dom Cobb: Now breathe…breathe, remember your training. Accept the fact that you’re in a dream and I’m here to protect you. Go on.
What is it about a baby that seems to call for one name to be given it rather than another? How is it that a spouse’s name calls us or repulses us? How is it that we give names to our pets?
Twin Boys, twin lives
The stories of identical twins’ nearly identical lives are often astonishing, but perhaps none more so than those of identical twins born in Ohio. The twin boys were separated at birth, being adopted by different families. Unknown to each other, both families named the boys James. And here the coincidences just begin. Both James grew up not even knowing of the other, yet both sought law-enforcement training, both had abilities in mechanical drawing and carpentry, and each had married women named Linda. They both had sons whom one named James Alan and the other named James Allan. The twin brothers also divorced their wives and married other women – both named Betty. And they both owned dogs which they named Toy. Forty years after their childhood separation, the two men were reunited to share their amazingly similar lives. (Source: Reader’s Digest, January 1980)
The conventional view is that individuals make conscious choices based on their likes and dislikes in naming things. But these strange stories suggest something else entirely: something difficult to describe, almost impossible to conventional thinking, is going on. You might even say the names seem to be choosing us.