(that’s right, I just used an imperative in the title. What are you gonna do about it?)
The purpose of a ‘name’ is to differentiate an individual thing from other things that it may be mistaken for; as such, calling four-legged furry things ‘dogs’, to avoid confusion with two-winged flappy things ‘birds’ makes logical sense. However, some things can only ever be validly named in this broad sense; objects can only be collectively named in relation to their function, animals can, at a push, be named individually, and it is only the (sadly and bewilderingly) superior human race that must be named individually.
My reasoning for this is simple: that names only exist to differentiate where there are differentiations to be made. Therefore, similar inanimate objects should not be named individually, as the differences between them are not, I feel, great enough to warrant these distinction. If you have two mops, and call one ‘Jerry’ and one ‘Keith’, there will be little practical difference in your mopping experience in using Jerry or Keith, and so differentiating them by name makes no sense.
Also, this unnecessary naming is harmful; the usage of names, based on language and used to express individuality, is an inherently human trait: we are egomaniacal users of language, and so we define ourselves as such. However, mops have no concept of language or the potential importance of the individual (if they did we’d be screwed as a species as the inevitable mop revolution would be imminent), so the power of naming is weakened.
And this weakening of naming power is apparent in our society; while names like ‘Smith’ and ‘Carter’ used to be based on profession, and so reflect societal role and usefulness, now we have meaningless terms like ‘Casey’ to define ourselves with; what the Hell does my name mean, that my ancestors built cases for a living?
So, in naming things that should not be named, we are contributing to the destruction of the power of naming, which is a pretty powerful concept in theory; we are separating ourselves from others of our species in such an inherent way that people are prepared to die for their family name, and are comfortable declaring ‘I am Amy!’, suggesting that one’s name has become the epitome of one’s character at this point.
However, animals are individuals, and so should they not be named as carelessly as humans? I’d be careful when naming animals with human names, partly because of an inbuilt right-winging that I reckon we all have to an extent, that we are the greatest species on the planet and so shouldn’t have to share anything, land, culture or even names with any other animal, but mostly because animals have no coherent way of expressing this individuality.
So while humans are individuals, and can talk freely as such, animals cannot communicate this idea as clearly and, as names are a means of identification based on language, I feel it would be illogical to associate linguistic individuality to animals that have no linguistics; apes doing sign language does not count, by the way.
But I’m not doubting the communicative abilities of animals, and it is an incorrect generalisation to suggest that they do not have differing concepts of individual versus communal identity, I am doubting their version of the kind of universally-applicable and codified means of communication that we call a ‘language’; essentially, animals know they’re individuals, but lack the fundamental building blocks of language to convert this knowledge into a ‘name’, and I don’t think its our place to impose this system onto them.
However, humans (almost inherently) do things that we really shouldn’t be, from practical problems of inventing war, to intellectual problems of inventing gods, to impossible-to-solve problems of Rubik’s cubes. Our society has developed into an interesting mixture of collective and individual identity, where the powerless see themselves as single people, while the powerful seek to manipulate these people as broad social groupings. This is perhaps why democracy is imperfect, and the politicians that have power within it are often seen as distant and disconnected: the necessity of voting success has forced them to generalise groups of people with individual values into groups with perceived collective values.
On a smaller scale, the need to be an individual is clear: we need a driver’s license and passport to prove who we are as people and we can even get birth and death certificates for our pets, who didn’t need names in the first place. And, inevitably, this has led to great problems, where everyone wants to be a celebrity, one single focus point of the attention of millions; no-one wants to be part of the team that’s doing the lighting for sold-out shows around the world, everyone wants to be the singer.
And those that want to get involved with, say, the music industry on a less egomaniacal level, for instance by being a session musician for the joy of playing, are branded ‘unambitious’ and ‘scared of the spotlight’. People need to realise that our individual lives are temporary and shallow, and the lives of those around us would be much improved by striving for collective, not individual, advancement.
And perhaps it all starts by not calling your mop Jerry.