Postmodern names

Google has been sending me articles with the word “postmodernism” in them for over two years. Since I write about the subject, it’s nice to be able to keep up with it this way. But I gotta tell ya, there’s very little of substance being written about the subject these days, and I want to take a moment this morning to talk about it a bit.

Firstly, let me repeat myself about how this writer views postmodernism. I think we’ve passed through the era of modernity, in which the worship of human intelligence, rationality and logic governed our culture. This was also the era of atheism, the ultimate fruit of such self worship.

Premodern: I believe, therefore I understand.
Modern: I think, therefore I understand.
Postmodern: I experience, therefore I understand.

One doesn’t “replace” the other. All three stages co-exist, but the newer influences the older in such a way that it tends to dominate trends of all sorts. Postmodernism, therefore, views things differently than the modern culture, including:

  • Limits of science and logic
  • Chaos can be as valid as order
  • Anti-institution, elitism and authority
  • Detests hierarchy
  • The age of participation
  • Everything is perishable
  • Gravitate towards tribes
Most of the essays being written about postmodernism these days come from those in the religious right, who are obsessed with a belief that the heart of postmodernism is the absence of truth, which interferes with their notion of absolute truth, including God, the Father. So postmodernism is an inherent evil and the beast in disguise. While some ministries are embracing postmodern concepts, they are considered heretical in the eyes of fundamentalist Christian beliefs. Nine of ten essays written in the past two years that mention the word “postmodernism” present this point of view.

The others are divided between those discussing art and design, where postmodernism is already passé, and those who present the pejorative absence of truth in secular themes.

Academic postmodernists (super intellectuals) view postmodernism as a rejection of what’s called “grand narratives” — vast, interconnected, institutional and ideological forms of knowledge — the stories that make up the hows and whys of who we are. This, however, is of itself a grand narrative, so it’s a little hard for me to go down that path. Therefore, it’s not the postmodernism of which I speak, and perhaps I should just use another term. I won’t, because it’s real, and in the context with which I use it, it’s a helpful explanation of smaller events that are taking place within the whole.

“What,” I’m often asked, “is the best evidence that we’re into a postmodern culture?” The answer surprises most people, because it’s, well, so seemingly insignificant — how we’re spelling our names. The thirst for uniqueness as individuals is driving us down what I view as a ridiculous road, but then my age group values order a little more than younger folks.

I recently stood in front of a secretary who was asking for my identity before taking me into the office of her boss.

“What’s your name, please?”

“Terry Heaton.”

“And how do you spell that?”

“It’s like you’re turning the ‘heat’ ‘on:’ heat on, heaton.”

“No, your first name.”

That floored me, because as I approach my seventh decade on the planet, nobody had ever asked me how to spell my first name. So I did a little research and found many ways to spell “Terry.” You can drop one of the Rs, change the E to an A, use I, IE, EE, or other assortments of vowels instead of the Y. As many ways as you can phonetically pronounce the word, you can create spellings to make it come out sounding like “Terry.”

I thought of this today while getting ready for tomorrow’s Superbowl. There’s been an ongoing chest pounding display between Joey Porter of the Steelers and Jerramy Stevens of the Seahawks. “Jerramy?” Where the heck did THAT come from? It came from parents who wanted their son to stand out from the crowd, to be different, unique, one of a kind. There are a lot of “Stevens” in the world, they thought, so let’s give him an out-of-the-box spelling for a first name. The problem is that everybody has the same wish, and so we have multiple spellings of multiple names, and guess what? If everybody stands out from the crowd in such a way, there is no crowd!

This is demonstrable postmodernism in its purest form.

Please, people, can we think about this for a minute? Do we really want to go through life asking people how to spell their first names? Of course, Marree, Joolea, Soosun, Jairee, and Toeknee probably feel otherwise.

There are things about postmodernism that I love, but this isn’t one of them.


  1. terry, have you read freakonomics? steven levitt deconstructs this very naming issue from both racial and class lines. really interesting, but also really logical.

    while we’re talking about postmodernism, i’m wondering: do you attempt to track implicit post-modern online articles as well? i mean, have you discovered other types of verbal patterns which you could set alerts to?

  2. Sean,

    I’ve not. Frankly, I’m too busy keeping up with Media changes (which I view as a subset of the whole Pomo drift) to devote any time to this pursuit.

    Thanks for asking.


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