The Power of Naming

Cecilia Sjöholm at Cabinet Magazine:

No story captures the lonely act of naming as a truly human capacity better than Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe (1719), where it saves the shipwrecked Crusoe from disintegration. Here, the logic of naming acquires a new twist. Friday—not an animal, but an aboriginal from a nearby island—becomes the center of his universe, the saving grace of his dwindling powers of perception, the focal point in his attempts to restructure something that at least looks like a society. Friday is not particularly responsive. But Crusoe invents a whole new kind of mastery, one in which Friday, in fact, becomes wholly redundant. Crusoe does not need Friday to confirm his powers. He does not need such affirmation because he has invented the technology of naming. Friday is named after a day in the calendar, and not according to a higher principle. He is named according to a certain principle of contingency, an operation of chance that can be repeated, serially, in as many varieties and forms as one likes. The question is no longer if names come from God or not, but rather how we are to produce them in the most efficient manner possible.

more here.