Bob Schwartz

Tag: names

Without Labels

Labels harm us as much as they help us. They may destroy us. Social, cultural, political, religious, intellectual labels. Even as we use labels as shorthand that helps us identify our friends and our kind and our foes and our others, we are mistaken. They keep us from reality, keep us from the rewarding but hard work of knowing more and deeply, keep us apart. Labels are as much weapons and disabilities as they are conveniences.

Can we live without labels? In some circumstances they appear to us essential. Don’t we want to know, and want others to know, what party or cause or religious denomination or ethnicity or gender we associate with? We may want that, and we may find benefit in it, but as with most benefits, they may be illusory and they have a cost.

Dogen was the 13th century founder of the Soto Zen school of Buddhism. It is one of the many schools and sects that were developing during Dogen’s time and that have developed during the centuries since.

He fiercely opposed the naming of schools of Buddhism, Zen or otherwise:

In this way, know that the buddha way that has been transmitted from past buddhas is not called Zen meditation, so how could there be the name “Zen School”? Clearly understand that it is an extreme mistake to use the name “Zen School.” Those who are ignorant assume that there is an “existence school” and an “emptiness school.” They feel bad not having a special name as a school, as if there is nothing to study. But the buddha way is not like that. It should be determined that in the past there was no such name as “Zen School.”
The Buddha Way, from Treasury of the True Dharma Eye

The first verse of the Tao Te Ching addresses the way that naming may keep us from the reality of things:

A name that can be named
is not The Name
tr. Jonathan Star

The name you can say
isn’t the real name.
tr. Ursula Le Guin

Names that can be Named
Are not True Names.
tr. John Minford

the name that becomes a name
is not the Immortal Name
tr. Red Pine (Bill Porter)

Red Pine continues: “During Lao-tzu’s day, philosophers were concerned with the correspondence, or lack of it, between name and reality. The things we distinguish as real change, while their names do not. How then can reality be known through names?”

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Barack and Mitt: The Most Unpopular Candidates in American History


This is an unprecedented Presidential campaign. Just ask the Social Security Administration.

The SSA keeps track of baby names, a database that goes back to 1879. It just released its list of the 1000 most popular male and female names for 2011—Jacob to Armani to Ethen (sic), Sophia to Francesca to Damaris. None of that necessarily matters for the Presidential race.

What does matter is this: Never in American history have both major party candidates for the Presidency had names that were not among the 1000 most popular—ever.

In 2008 it was easy to surmise that one name (not John) had never made it to the Top 1000, and Barack still hasn’t. But this year’s race includes two overwhelmingly unpopular names.

Romney’s real first name Willard has made appearances on the chart: the last time in 1989 when it was #966, and it reached its highest position in 1915 (#58). But that isn’t the name he has ever used. The name Mitt is nowhere to be found.

The Presidential names (including candidates) you think might not make the list do. Woodrow, last seen in 1983 (#954), went from #234 in 1911 to #44 in 1913, Wilson’s first year in office. Ike bounced around the middle to bottom of the pack from the 19th century on, but at least it is on the list, finally falling off the Top 1000 in 1957 (while Ike was still in office). Rutherford always struggled, giving up in 1905 at #910. Even Newt had its day (though not much of one), appearing near the bottom between 1880 and 1907.

But no Barack. And no Mitt.

Does this have any consequence? As for any correlation between electoral success and relative name popularity—at the time of election or at some significant life stage for voters—there is no consistent pattern, no seeming name advantage.

All we know is this: There has never been an election between two candidates with such unusual and unpopular names. Just one more element in an election unlike any other.