New Child, Same Name

I have never seen this done by anyone I actually know, but in my special period of historical study, the 12th century, there are at least two royal examples of a child being renamed after an older brother who had died. The more obscure is in Aragón-Catalonia; better known may be a son of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, christened Conrad but later taking the name of the original heir, Frederick of Rothenburg, who had died at the age of 22.

What we have probably all encountered among our contemporaries, on the other hand, is parents engendering a new child to “replace” the one they have lost. This is so common as to attract no notice, and of course we do it with spouses too. And pets: even the father of the animal-rights movement, Arthur Schopenhauer, gave all his successive poodles the same name.

But let us rather stop a moment and ask ourselves what is going on here. To expect one poodle to be more or less the same as its predecessor is perhaps forgivable, and in any case the dog will know nothing of the previous pet and cannot be informed beyond what his nose tells him about the residence. Spouses, on the other hand, will usually know of the previous partner and may be assumed to understand what they are getting into. What, however, about a child who is engendered (or adopted) to “replace” one who has been lost? He or she will certainly know. Will it be possible for the parents to avoid giving him the sense of being a regrettable substitute? I doubt it.

Children, then are highly fungible. This is an economist’s term for one unit being equivalent to any other, thus readily convertible. The renaming practice emphasises the fact that inasmuch as a lost child (or pet) is usually replaced, what we really want is not the individual but the role. It is all about satisfaction of our own needs. This offends against the Kantian imperative to treat others as an end not a means. And of course the most egregious violation of that principle is the deliberate engendering of children. We cannot possibly do it for their benefit, as they do not yet exist and so there is no “them” to be either benefited or harmed – our language is not well adapted to telling non-existence like it is – and so we must necessarily be doing it for our benefit.

There is, then, a child-shaped hole in most of us, which we fill with whatever we can get, and chop or stretch it to fit like Procrustes. Most of the time people are sufficiently moderate about their methods to sneak under our radar, though perhaps we should improve our detection; when a woman steals someone else’s baby from its pram, or a father renames his son after the previous heir, we owe them gratitude for showing us what is really going on.

(Fiddle date-stamp to August 24, 2020)

Posted on December 20, 2021 at 14:17 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: AGAINST NATURE, Breeders And Thinkers

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