Zender 2009 the Naming

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  • 7/27/2019 Zender 2009 the Naming


    Zender Colas Festschrift 1

    The Naming Insight:Hieroglyphic Names & Social Identity in the Pre-Columbian Americas1

    Marc Zender, Peabody Museum, Harvard [email protected]

    I therefore propose a dynamic model of name acquisition.Name acquisition was a means to enhance and legitimizepower throughout a kings life. It was an ongoing andgradual process. The accession was one such decisivemoment, but others were equally important.

    Pierre Robert Colas (2001:9)

    As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelledonto the other the word water... and somehow the mysteryof language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-rmeant the wonderful cool something that was flowing overmy hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave itlight, hope, joy, set it free! ... Everything had a name...

    Helen Keller (1903:28)


    In several seminal papers (2001, 2003, 2006, 2007), and in the publication of hisdissertation (2004), Pierre Robert Colas developed a dynamic model of ClassicMayan onomastics that remains both foundational and insightful, with much stillto contribute to our understanding of the structure, acquisition, and significanceof the personal names and titles of Classic Mayan elites.

    Colas (2001) initial insight that Classic Maya dynasts did not so much changetheir names throughout their careers as acquire novel nominal elements andepithets in accordance with their evolving sociopolitical roles (e.g., accession,death) served to harmonize previous observations by epigraphers that Mayanrulers took new names upon their accessions (Eberl and Graa-Behrens 2000,2004) with the classic anthropological concept ofrites de passage (Gluckman 1962,Turner 1967, Van Gennep 1909), which several scholars had already shown wassignificant to the interpretation of accession rituals and iconography (Bonavides

    1This is a preliminary paper prepared for the conference Maya Culture: Identity, Language and

    History A Celebration of the Life and Work of Pierre Robert Colas held at Vanderbilt

    University, Nashville, Tennessee, September 26-27, 2009. As this is still very much a work in

    progress, please do not cite without written permission of the author.

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    Zender Colas Festschrift 2

    1992, Le Fort 2000). This convergence further allowed Colas to identify a crucialseparation in the names of Classic Maya rulers between personal names servingas rigid designators (i.e., invariable, unambiguous referents to a kings self, seeKripke 1972:270) and more ambiguous names, titles and epithets whichdesignated a kings socially-definedperson (Colas 2001, 2003). Colas model hasbeen of immense utility in teasing apart concepts of individual and socially-constituted identity, as well as for the investigation of Classic Mayan concepts ofdivine authority (cf. Houston and Stuart 1995, Zender 2004).

    It may perhaps come as something of a surprise that Pierres model, initiallyconceived in his early twenties, should have proven so robust and productive,but there are several reasons why this should be so. For one, his work alwaystook full advantage of the fruits of Mayan decipherment, to which he was anactive contributor. For another, his knowledge of hieroglyphs was balanced byhis familiarity with modern Mayan languages (particularly Yucatec) and theirsemantic, morphological, and syntactic possibilities. But perhaps mostimportantly, Pierre was always careful to position his theories thoughtfully

    within broader anthropological and philosophical discourses, and he took cross-cultural comparisons very seriously, finding much of interest in more than acentury of onomastic and philological studies of the elite inscriptions of Egyptand Mesopotamia.

    In Pierres most recent papers, and in a book in preparation at the time of hisdeath, he continued to refine his dynamic model, becoming increasinglyconcerned with regional and temporal variations in Mayan naming practices.His identification of an ethnic boundary running roughly along the Usumacintariver drainage, proposed largely on the basis of the geographic distribution oftwo distinct types of names in the region (Colas 2006), is well borne out by recentwork on language variation in the Classic Maya lowlands. In another paper

    (Colas 2007), he revisited the topic of name acquisition once again, showing thatthis perspective still had much to contribute with his demonstration that ClassicMaya kings acquired yet further names upon their deaths, surely the mostpoignant of all rites of passage. It is a tragedy of the first order that Pierre neverhad the opportunity to continue his onomastic research in all of the promisingdirections that were constantly being suggested to him.

    This paper touches upon many of the aspects of naming and identity that were ofgreat interest to Pierre, but it treads lightly in evaluating and extending thoseconcepts, its purpose being rather the consideration of Pierres model in lightnaming traditions elsewhere in the New World. Following a review of the key

    anthropological, philosophical, and literary concepts of naming, I suggestsome tentative first steps towards an integrated view of the pictorial and glyphicrepresentation of names among the Classic Maya (ca. AD 600-900), the LatePostclassic Aztecs (ca. AD 1300-1521), and in the Plains Pictographic tradition ofthe late 18th and early 19th centuries. If this perspective is valid, then theremarkable similarities between these traditions may suggest new possibilitiesfor cross-cultural comparisons in the domain of names and social identity in thepre-Columbian Americas.

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    Zender Colas Festschrift 3

    Whats in a Name?

    The potential for the confusion ofname with named is an ever-present peril, andthe question of identity is a correspondingly rich one in literature. As theimmortal Bard himself famously asks:

    What's in a name? that which we call a RoseBy any other word would smell as sweete;

    Romeo and Juliet, II, 1, First Folio (1623: 59)

    Shakespeare's argument, which no doubt many of us share, is that while a thingand its name stand in a powerful and important relationship, the name isnonetheless not the thing itself. But that he even presents this idea forcontemplation suggests that Shakespeare understood the complicated,interdependent relationship of name and named. At the very least, heunderstood that it was a problematic one for much of his audience.

    Jorge Luis Borges, for his part, presents an even stronger view of the relationshipbetween name and thing, though he could only bring himself to do so in theconditional:

    Si (como el griego afirma en el Cratilo)El nombre es arquetipo de la cosa,En las letras de rosa est la rosaY todo el Nilo en la palabra Nilo.

    Jorge Luis Borges, El Golem (1964)

    (If, as Plato affirms in Cratylus, the name is the archetype of a thing, then in theletters R-O-S-E one can find the rose, and all of the Nile in the word Nile.) We

    may disagree with Plato, but the sentiment is familiar, and significant enoughthat Shakespeare and Borges discuss it. The question is: are names naturali.e., inevitable? Do words in fact have an intrinsic relationship to the things theysignify? Or is language, as linguists tell us, just a system of arbitrary sound-meaning pairings?

    Today, the strong form of the name-entity relationship isn't pursued by manyscholars. While the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell (1905)argued that most or even all English names described (or at least indirectlyreferred) to named entities, most scholars would now follow the causal theoristSaul Kripke (1972, 1980), who argued that names are best seen as rigid

    designators: terms referring to entities independently of any properties held bythem. To the extent that names and entities do frequently seem to be natural orconventional i.e., if the word valley sounds appropriate for a low-lying areabetween mountains, or vine sounds like something that ought to wind its wayaround trees Kripke would have explained this as the result of a long-termcausal connection with the named object as mediated through communities ofspeakers. In other words, we all conspire to habituate words and their referents.So much so, in fact, that very few English speakers are aware that both valleyand vine are words that English borrowed from French. Indeed, every English

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    Zender Colas Festschrift 4

    word that begins with a v- was ultimately borrowed from French (or Latin). Butsuch is the power of the consensual use of vocabulary that hundreds of thesewords now sound as English as any others.

    The active creation of meaning, in which human agents and cultural memoriesboth play major roles, is nowhere more visible than in the domain of personalnames and titles, the subject of this paper. Cross-culturally, as mentioned above,names are frequently bequeathed in ceremonies associated with rites de passage(Van Gennep 1909). One such context is baptism. Such ceremonies are not byany means restricted to newborns or young children; the key feature is thereceipt of a new name corresponding to a new social identity. Marriage isanother significant event of this kind. In English-speaking countries, and inmany other parts of the Western world, it has until recently been traditional for awoman to take the surname of her husband at their wedding. Again, the newsocial identity compels the change of name. Going one step further, we mightreasonably ask whether the name of the present Roman Catholic pope is moreappropriately Joseph Alois Ratzinger or Benedict XVI. Cross-culturally and

    diachronically, many high or sacred offices requ

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