I was thinking today about those words that have disappeared from use during my lifetime. And for whatever reason the first example that came to mind was the term Christian name.
Now, strictly speaking, a Christian name is the name given to a child when they are christened, and therefore it is a baptismal name, if you like.
However, when I was growing up, the terms Christian name and given name were totally interchangeable. Whether you had been christened or not, you were always asked by people to provide your Christian name when filling in surveys or forms etc.
I understand this conscious shift away from the term Christian name is an attempt to create a more religiously tolerant society, whereby members of other religions or beliefs (including atheists) don’t feel marginalized or offended by the said term.
Ditto for how we are now encouraged to wish people a happy festive season, as a opposed to Merry Christmas. As an aside, Happy Solstice Celebrations might at least give people a link to the astronomical significance of this particular time of the year.
Ok, whatever. So, look, here’s the thing, I’m not going to argue for or against this push towards secularizing language as it pertains to my own views of the rightness of the Christian faith.
Instead, I am questioning what is being offered to replace what I see as a loss of meaning (or impoverishment, if you will) within language generally.
The idea of a Christian name showed that an individual “belonged” to something higher than simply the family they were born to. Yet now one simply possesses a first name and a last name. Even the terms family name and surname are in danger of being totally eroded, I would argue.
Same for our national holidays (holy-days). They are in the process of becoming nameless breaks from school or work and nothing more.
It’s a way of reducing words to numbers. Easter becomes a four-day weekend, for instance. And it’s that myopic ass, so-called political correctness, that’s driving it. But at what cost to our humanity, ultimately? Where will it end?
How long before the days of the week are also renamed? Monday becoming One Day, Tuesday becoming Two Day, Wednesday becoming Three Day etc. After all, Thursday and Friday are actually Thor’s Day and Freya’s Day respectively, aren’t they?
Surely, the inferred pagan worship of these Norse deities alone, as instituted within the words Thursday and Friday, is cause enough to reduce all week days to a more suitable number-based system of naming?
Hell, while we’re at it, why stop there? I’m thinking, why not do away with our personal names altogether, too? Whether Christian or Muslim or Rastafarian or what have you. Take the omnipresent name John, for instance. It means “God is gracious” or “God is generous”. What God are we talking about here? Jehovah or Allah or Vishnu? It’s a freaking minefield of potential cultural conflict.
Numbers are so much safer. People can’t take offense at them, because they hold no special meaning beyond what they quantify. So let’s replace our names with our social security numbers, which we could have tattooed or barcoded onto our foreheads for convenience sake. What say you?
Let’s be done with the bothersome task of trying to find new meaning in an increasingly secular world. The sacred has no place in either language or our lives anymore. Even a word like enthusiasm is too contentious for widespread use, meaning as it does, in its etymological sense, to be filled with god.
I jest, obviously. But my concern is real. And I believe it is the duty of us writers to help find new meaning within our shared language, before it’s stripped bare. A universal language of the human Spirit, at the very least, is what is needed, I propose. Because if we don’t create new meaning to replace the old, we’ll eventually end up losing a lot more than the right to own our own names, I can guarantee you.
To finish, consider the irony of the following quote:
“Words have meaning and names have power” – unknown