In preparation for one of my Ph.D. exams, I’m reading a book, written by an Israeli Jew, about the history of the Holy Land’s landscape since 1948. [Commence yawn.] It is a little dry, so I am only on the second chapter, but the first chapter was all about how Zionists changed the map. Not being a geographer myself I was at first a little confused by this argument. Given that a map represents/reflects the physical landscape, how can one simply change it? Apparently, my given was a bit off. The author argues that the Zionists were using the map not simply as a representation of the physical landscape, but as a political tool. How were they doing this? By changing the Arabic names of places (villages, towns, landmarks, rivers, mountains, valleys, etc) to Hebrew names.
Who knew names were so powerful?
I mean, I knew names were important because my name (in Hebrew) means princess, which I’ve always taken as an indication of both my identity and my inherent rights in life (kidding!), but I guess I never thought of place names as particularly powerful. Perhaps because I’ve never really considered the fact that place names could be changed.
Now that it’s been pointed out to me, though, I can see where names could be a powerful political tool. Changing a place name is a polite way of saying that you’re also deleting a place name. Obviously, on one level, deleting a place name doesn’t change anything – the place still is what it is, it still has its landmarks, history, etc. But, on the other hand, changing the name changes everything. Especially when it’s done as a top-down decision. It’s hard to imagine someone else telling me my name has been changed. In some sense, the name itself contains the history, the personality, and the relationships associated with a particular person/place. Erasing a name is one way to begin erasing a people, a history.
But the whole thing has me thinking about the importance of what we name things. It makes a difference, for example, whether I refer to Caleb’s morning nap as long or short. It affects how I view my time; it affects my consideration of his future naps; it affects whether my husband thinks my day has been easy or hard. Sadly it doesn’t change whether Caleb is well-rested or not (read: fussy or not), but it does affect pretty much everything else.
As it turns out, how I refer to my life also makes a difference. Some people refer to motherhood as a spiritual discipline, which is quite zen and lovely of them. I tend to think of it more often as a Sisyphean effort, which is not quite as zen and lovely. I find that I can’t quite make the jump from futile boulder shouldering to spiritual practice in one leap, so I’m thinking about whether or not there is an intermediate step – some more neutral way of referring to this new life of motherdom and studentdom in which so little seems to get done.
For now, though, I’m just going to say that Caleb’s most recent nap was very short and you should, therefore, feel very sorry for me and send me lovely things to make it all better.