Notes Towards a Philosophy of Proper Names, Adequate to the Complexity and Wonder of Its Subject

Justin E. H. Smith in his Substack Newsletter:

One of the most intriguing moments in Claude Lévi-Strauss’s magisterial Tristes Tropiques of 1955 arrives when the anthropologist is playing with a group of Nambikwara children deep in Brazil’s interior. All of a sudden:

… a girl who had been struck by one of her playmates took refuge by my side and, with a very mysterious air, began to whisper something into my ear. As I did not understand and was obliged to ask her to repeat it several times, her enemy realized what was going on and, obviously very angry, also came over to confide what seemed to be a solemn secret. After some hesitation and questioning, the meaning of the incident became clear. Out of revenge, the first little girl had come to tell me the name of her enemy, and the latter, on becoming aware of this, had retaliated by confiding to me the other’s name… After which, having created a certain atmosphere of complicity, I had little difficulty in getting them to tell me the names of the adults.

But why, now, should the Nambikwara, who otherwise seem to be perfectly at ease with this anthropologist in their midst, seek to keep their “real” names secret? Why should a person not have a single all-purpose name for others to learn upon making their acquaintance? Is it not the essential purpose of names to enable us to refer to things and people correctly?

More here.