The Call to Be: Rhetorics of Names and Naming- July 1, 2013

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Editor: Star Medzerian Vanguri, Nova Southeastern University
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While names are of great public and scholarly interest—studied by linguists, sociologists, anthropologists, literary theorists, and others—rhetoricians have yet to take up naming as a subject of serious scholarly inquiry. Yet we cannot fully examine how we address, and in turn recognize the existence of, another being without giving critical attention to how and why we name. Therefore, this collection gathers work that considers proper names from rhetorical perspectives, answering the question, “What might be gained in rhetorical study from a focused attention to names and acts of naming?”

This collection takes as its point of departure the question, “What is a name?” As words that constitute selves within social contexts (Butler) but can “detach [themselves] from their bearer[s]” (Derrida), proper names illustrate the connectedness of discursivity and materiality, style and substance. As such, names lend themselves to deeper rhetorical investigation: What might rhetorical approaches contribute to our primarily linguistic understanding of how names work? How might theories of materiality in rhetoric enrich or disrupt conceptions of the name as word or symbol? How might interpreting names as material artifacts further explain the processes of name bestowal, accumulation, loss, or theft? Also of interest are the formation, modification, and recontexualization of names, including words that are hybridized/combined to form names (e.g. Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube), acronyms that become names in themselves (e.g. NASA, SYSCO), and metonymic proper names (e.g. 9/11, Sandy Hook).

The collection also seeks answers to the question, “What is naming?” It has been argued that the act of naming “helps to establish the structure of the world” (Bourdieu) and verifies our existence in it (Butler). According to Burke, the human ability to name necessarily separates us from that which we name. Names establish relationships among humans and between human and nonhuman beings through classification, control, and identification. As those who assign names are generally in positions of power (as in the parent naming an unborn child, a member of a majority group pejoratively naming a minority, or a discoverer naming a “new” land), names can further reify inequity (Nuessel). Personal names in particular encourage classification by emphasizing/concretizing gender, social class, and kinship. In what ways, this collection asks, do the acts of assigning and speaking names encourage these performances of identity? How might naming work to resist or conceal particular identities?

As its title suggests, this collection will consider the ways in which “calling into being” influences identity and affects/grants power. The editor is looking for proposals that treat the name as an object of rhetorical study. Name types of interest for the collection include, but are not limited to, the following:

-personal names (given names, surnames, nicknames, pseudonyms)
-community names (groups, tribes, cohorts, teams)
-brand/product names
-organization/business/corporation names
-place/space names (cities, streets, virtual environments; schools, airports, restaurants; theme parks, museums, memorials)
-technological names (products, services, codes)
-event names
-legal and political names (propositions, acts, laws, policies)

Contributions should speak to the rhetorical potential of studying names, possibly answering questions such as these:

-What would a rhetorically informed approach to naming look like/involve?
-What makes a name or naming style desirable, persuasive, or marketable?
-What can we gain from treating names as “things”?
-In what ways are names embodied?
-How is personhood affected when names are denied, withheld, or taken away?
-How do names teach us to “read” people/places/spaces?
-How do naming rituals illustrate the cultural importance of names/naming?
-In what cases do names compromise/lend authority?
-In what ways do names encourage/discourage discrimination or tolerance?
-What are the ethical, economic, and political responsibilities/implications of naming?

500-word proposals are due by July 1, 2013, and contributors will be notified by August 1, 2013. Proposals should be sent to Star Medzerian Vanguri, with the subject line “collection proposal.” Queries welcome.

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