The Bible says in Proverbs 22:1 “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches…”. A name is not only a person’s most prominent features, but it is a great treasure.
The giving and receiving of a name is an event of major importance: a good name provides stability, since the person who receives the name receives an identity and a place within the society. Moreover, while riches are fleeting (and we know that we can’t take riches with us once we leave this world at the time of our death) a good name can be eternal: many men and women of history are still being spoken of nowadays, thanks to their name and their achievements.
The meaning of an epithet may also be made of great use in recalling to the mind many facts connected with the subject which it represents: let’s recall for instance Richard the Lionheart, so called because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior, or Josif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, who adopted the name “Stalin” – from steel, to indicate his firmness.
A name may also answer the purpose of suggesting an object or a feeling to the mind: across the years, it has lost its original meaning of simple “appellative” and has moved to represent a “memory”, an ideology, an identification with the subject designated in the past.
Throughout history, the “name” has always represented a crucial political instrument.
The “name” has become evocative of an historical/cultural identity and this cultural identity is, by its own nature, always mutable and changing. When assigning to a name a precise identity, we can assist to the rise of prejudices, mental schemes, aprioristic refusals. Identity becomes therefore strictly related to experience and memory – and memory is nothing but a social construction, represented by the evolution of previous recalls.
Memory remains silent, until it is provided with perspectives and opportunities to spread out. Therefore the “name” constitutes the origin of any decision taken for the sake of an ideology and embodying this latter.
Onomatology in history leads into acquiring a political significance, representing the result of a particular way of acting, well-known to those who have memories, both in a positive and a negative sense: it has the power to influence, control and to incite the crowd.
As an example, we can take Octavian Augustus, a young descendant of the Gens Octavia, who adopted the name of Caesar, “wearing” this name in order to introduce himself as the “New Emperor”, pursuing the values embodied by the former and most famous Julius Caesar. Actually, Julius Caesar himself, after his victories, did not introduce himself as Julius, but as the nephew of Gaius Marius, the Empire Saver.
Therefore it is not enough to adopt a name, it is necessary to wear it, so that it can evoke an historical memory.
The name becomes a “talking name”, bringing a symbolic or prophetic feature , finally generating a “factory of consensus”. We see a rise of myths related to important names which influenced the historical situation and conditioned people’s behavior.
As Emilio Gentile wrote in his analysis of Fascism ”Such as other political myths of our times, also the one of Mussolini has been the result of an historical situation, i.e. of social, psychological, cultural and political conditions; however, the myth operated in reality and had a great influence on the development of the historical situation, conditioning the attitude of many people toward it. In the modern mass politics, the myth plays a role and an activity which cannot be ignored in the analysis of the social movements without producing a sensible mutilation in their historical reality. This counts particularly when dealing with fascism, which has been the first mass movement bringing myth to power”.