12 September 2023


 I have recently had some episodes of 'hospitalisation' ... perhaps readers might spare a prayer or two, and some Masses, for me ... and have been thinking a bit about the use of Names. 

In English hospitals, the young women who do duty as nurses or auxiliaries have a habit of continually shouting JOHN!! at me. If it is clear that they must be talking to me, because there is nobody else in the cubicle, they still shout JOHN!! at me before saying the simplest things. "JOHN!! would you move a few inches up the bed!" "JOHN!! we need to put a cannula in your arm!" If there are several of them around, this means an incessant barrage of young female voices all yelling "JOHN!!" at me. To crown it all, 'John' is a vocative which, in the course of my life, has been aimed at me rarely and by rather few people. It is not one of those words to which I instinctively react, like 'Father' or 'Sir' or 'Papa' or 'Grandpapa'. 

Women students whom 25 years ago I had occasion to rebuke for being late with their essays did not respond to my criticisms of them by yelling JOHN!! JOHN!! at me.

What would be so unspeakably terrible about simply saying, in polite English, "Please could you move a few inches up the bed"?

I hope readers perused the blogpost I recently wrote which took as its starting point Book 6 of the Odyssey; and that they may still have its points in mind. Meeting Nausicaa on her beach, Odysseus did not reveal to her his Name. He revealed it nowhere in the rest of Book 6. For that matter: when he arrives at the Palace of Nausicaa's Father, he does not say who he is ... nor does anybody expect him to do so. 

Not in Book 7 ... 

... or in Book 8 ...

In Book 9, in the course of a formal xenia, the xenizontes do respectfully wonder what his name is. Finally, climactically, he reveals: "I am Odysseus son of Laertes and I am Famous!"

When the Archangel brings the tidings of Redemption to our Blessed Lady, he does not stand at the entrance and yell "MARY!!" "MARY!!".

He says Khaire kekharitomene. "Hail one that is established in God's grace and favour".

In the worlds of Homer and of S Luke, Names were not cheap things to be flung arrogantly and carelessly around. They were significant words, precious facts, which to a degree embodied an individual's identity and personality. 

Only somebody who was a hopeless vulgarian would fail to understand this, or fail to behave respectfully towards Names. 

We should all keep in mind that, most significantly, we are forbidden actually to utter the Name of our own God ( HWHY).

Today is the Festival of the Most Holy Name of Mary. 

The first stage of being catechised in the mystagogic School of the Name of Mary, is to realise the preciousness of this Name.  

And, I remind you, the rule of our Latin Church is to bow the head when uttering or hearing this Name.

The second stage is, in ones practical use, to employ the Name respectfully.

And the next stage is is to murmur the Name lovingly in all-but-latreutic devotion.

Scripture and the Liturgy, on the Birthday of our Lady, reminded us Oleum effusum Nomen tuum ... Thy name is Oil Poured Out.

"And the Virgin's Name was Mary."


Richard Ashton said...

I don't mind being addressed by my name, but get apoplectic when commands are suffixed with 'for me':
Take a seat for me.
Take off your shirt for me.
Come back next week or the week after for me.

Luke said...

Father, your story didn't go where I thought it would. I expected it to repeat an experience of a Priest I know who was in a physical rehabilitation facility with an anti-Catholic nurse who refused to address him as "Father" because her (abridged) Bible said to call no man "father."

Éamonn said...

A friend, a burly fireman and paramedic, was in hospital with heart trouble. The consultant cardiologist kept calling him "Mr Power". He finally asked to be addressed by his first name, as he knew the doctor slightly and his father (also a doctor) well. The doctor cheerfully acceded to his request - but pointed out that he always waited to be asked, on the grounds that a sick person needs more respect and courtesy, not less.

FatherTF said...

I have extensive experience of the “first name” practice. Occasionally, I have been asked how I would like to be addressed. The reply “Father Finigan” ordinarily (though not universally) results in a polite acquiescence, but is not then used consistently, being frequently substituted with “Timmafee”.

The best response was shared with me by a young priest (name changed to protect the innocent): “My name is Peter, but my friends call me Father.”

Since the hospital regime also tempts one to other forms of rebellion, another correction worth employing as casually as possible, is to say, “my Christian name is…” I have occasionally been rewarded with a further enquiry professing ignorance of what is meant by “Christian name.”

(And of course, you are in my prayers at the altar.)

Zephyrinus said...

“Hail Marys” and Best Wishes to you, Fr, for your “hospitalisation”.

A big chuckle reading your “John !!!, John !!!” episodes with young females in the Ward.

It puts one in mind of the wonderful Carry On episode (Carry On Cleo) with Kenneth Williams, when he opined: "Infamy. Infamy. They've all got it in for me !!!”.

Matthew F Kluk said...

Perhaps the nurses and technicians had to take a class on showing personal care for their patients by using their first names. To show you they consider you a person, not just a patient. Much as a salesman might try to use your name to build a relationship.But it could come across as artificial.

David said...

Father (John!):

When should one bow one's head to the Names of Our Lord and Our Lady? Is it all the time? That would make for a lot of head-bobbing during recitation of the Holy Rosary. I've been curious about this for a while. I embrace the pious principle behind the custom, but I'm unsure how it's supposed to work in practice. It isn't something I see commonly done, so I would be grateful for any advice you or your readers could provide.

Arthur Gallagher said...

Father, I know how you must be feeling. Only my family and close friends call me Arthur. Even most of my colleagues call me Mr. Gallagher. Most people call me sir. Sometimes people even call me Colonel. I do not ask anyone to do these things. I do not think that I am better than anyone else. Mostly, it is social convention. Partly, it must be my personality. I am used to it. I would not care if some of these people did call me Arthur. Yet- it annoys me to no end when total strangers call me by my first name. It is an intrusion into my privacy. I call my friends parents Mr. or Mrs. Smith, or Walsh, or whatever their surname might be. The idea of calling my friend Michael's mother Kathleen is unthinkable to me, even though she is a close friend of mine. Mrs. M she remains. When I had the right to enforce these things, a Major L tried to have the invitations and place cards that we used made out in the Christian names of the married women at our events, instead of the customary Mrs. John Smith. He argued that I was being old-fashioned, and that some women might take offense. My reply was that if Mrs. X wants you to call her Helen, she will let you know. Until then, respect her privacy.

The Ancient Professor said...

My wife grew up east of London and trained at the London Hospital back in the late ‘70’s. She tells me the nurses probably keep yelling John at you because they are assuming you are hard of hearing.

The Ancient Professor said...

My wife grew up east of London and trained at the London Hospital back in the late ‘70’s. She tells me the nurses probably keep yelling John at you because they are assuming you are hard of hearing.

Atticus said...

When encountering a fellow, it’s always best
To consider how he’d like to be addressed.
Unless you aspire
To be old Zechariah,
Non "Johannes (nec ‘John’) nomen eius est".

Grant Milburn said...

I see that the Lord reserves the right to call people by their given names, without ceremony. So from the burning bush: Moses! Moses! And from the Ark: Samuel! Samuel! (According to LXX, not MT.)

My wife and I never call each other by our given names, only by endearments. This is not just sentiment, it is required by the etiquette of my wife's culture. I never call my brothers-in-law by their given names. I use a monosyllabic title, one for my wife's brothers, and another for her sister's husband, whether addressing them personally or referring to them in the third person. I can also refer to them as the father or mother of their eldest child. I once forgot the given name of my sister-in-law because I never used it.

Here, given names are used when addressing children or the younger generation. Otherwise a title is often used, with or without the name,indicating their relation to oneself, or some other term of respect, which differs by age, gender and ethnicity. Even the pronoun "You" is often avoided- there is no simple equivalent of the English word anyway. More often than not a third-person form of address is used- a title with or without a name. "Could "Sir" John move up the bed a bit?" (However the original sounds warmer and more natural- not cold, pompous or sarcastic..)

Moritz Gruber said...

I don't think we are actually forbidden to utter the holy Name of God. We are not Jews; and what made the Jews not say It was not an actual commandment, but a fence-around-the-commandments... which may have in its turn been inforced by severe punishments and even the death penalty (though as I non-scholar I admit I am without studies not sure whether that's "Monty Python" or reality), but that was a matter of civil law. They did name Him, to all probability, in the times of the First Temple.

What the Israelite priests did say, in the Temple, reverently, is not entirely unfit to be said, reverently, by a member of the Mystical Body of the God-Man in a consecrated Church in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in Christian worship (though I'd wish it was only in prayer and not in the sermon). And after all, we do say the name of Christ there... reverently (which in a sermon in most places would do well to be replaced by "Christ" or "our Lord" either).

(Yes, I know Pope Benedict disagrees with me on that, so, no need to tell me.)

Dr Tafaro said...

What a beautiful meditation. I have often felt the same, with less expressive erudition(!)
Our public personae, preserved by the courteous use of titles, allow for effective communication. Direct and personal appellatives are sacred and reserved for a certain intimacy.
Do you find their use in hospitals, or when the cook has your sandwich ready or the barrista your drink, carries a certain underlying hostility?

Arthur Gallagher said...

I wish that we could return to a time when the President's wife called herself Mrs. John F. Kennedy, and referred to him as "my husband, Mr. Kennedy". Sadly, those times are long gone, and the wife of a sitting president feels the need to express her own opinions, and to have her own causes, often related to politics, and sometimes at odds with her husband's priorities, as well as having every Tom, Dick or Harry call her by her first name. Women have many prerogatives that are not shared by men. Which is as it should be. After all, if a woman were to become President of the United States, her husband would get no title at all. The attempt by the press to declare Kamala Harris' husband to be the "second man" is grotesque, and more absurd, as she does not use his name. Besides, there is no "second" in politics. He is just plain Mr. whatever his name is. I sense that the current linguistic mess is the result of feminism, and therefore shares a common origin with the rejection of male-preference primogeniture in the Royal Succession of the United Kingdom. Fathers are important. Kings are a "type" of father. Mothers, too, are important, in their unique way. They need to be respected. Changes in language, including in forms of address, both reflect and exacerbate negative social change.
Whether you are called "John" or "Father", or whatever title you might have is of great significance. Socially. Even ontologically. Words that are properly understood express the essence of the thing, or the person they express. I am not a serial number.
I am a man. Calling me by my name implies that the speaker has a degree of familiarity with the me.

Moritz Gruber said...

>>Do you find their use [...] when the cook has your sandwich ready or the barrista your drink, carries a certain underlying hostility?

No, except in the very antiquated sense when the Latins called a foreigner a hostis which meant "host, guest, enemy" (I think both "host" and "guest" are derived from the word). They lated differentiated and called the hostes who liked each other hospites. I think to be called by a barista with my given name because (not despite) it is a term of intimacy really is an expression of hospitabilty. A development maybe, but a development for the better.

Chesterton meant it as a praise to the Russians that "even when they flogged each other like barbarians, they called upon each other by their Christian names like children."