Session 3


Mark Abley

As our discussions draw to a close, I'm reminded of the question I asked Ben at the start of our live chat: is Juliet right when, in Shakespeare's classic tragedy, she says, "That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet"? Ben replied with instant erudition by evoking the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (to whom we returned in the last round). Being of a more down-to-earth mind, I was thinking about my garden. I've always hated the word "hydrangea"—its odd vowels, its long middle syllable with that "drain" sound, its abrupt ending. Gertrude Stein may have answered Shakespeare by insisting that a rose was a rose was a rose, but did she ever get her hands dirty? I suspect that if the name of a rose were "hydrangea," it would smell nothing like as sweet.

Is this fanciful of me? Of course. Discussions about names, words, brands, and titles often come down to the power of the imagination. But then, isn't that what art is frequently all about? Naming gives every artist—and every parent—the chance to let their imagination run wild. Robert observed that any naming decision tends to reflect a battle, or at least a tension, between convention and nonconformity. We began our conversation by reflecting on the sculpture of John Chamberlain, and I think that particular tension is evident in the titles of his works. His choices entailed a divine ricochet (to cite the inventive name of one of his sculptures) between sense and nonsense, the referential and the arbitrary, the absurd and, as Frank pointed out, the autobiographical.

There's no recipe, no magic formula to producing a successful name. As one of the participants in our live chat suggested, success in both business and politics can have a lot to do with name recognition. Therefore the power of names goes beyond questions of pure linguistics; personal, social, and political factors can all come into play.

I think the idea of play is a good way for us to end the discussion. I want to thank the readers of this Forum, the three panelists, and the Guggenheim Museum for giving us all the opportunity to engage in some serious, provocative play—on words.