Settling on a Name


I remember during the LA riots of 1992 the media struggled with how to refer to Rodney King. Then someone decided to call him a “black motorist” and next thing you know every reporter was calling him a black motorist. Yes, they collectively decided, he drove a motor vehicle and he’s black, so he’s a black motorist. Problem solved.

During the war with Iraq, there was some confusion about what to call those who were fighting back. Were they terrorists, or freedom fighters, or what? Then the word “insurgents” was floated and it stuck. From then on, the media coalesced around calling them insurgents, even though nobody seemed to know what it meant.

We see it all the time even if we’re not aware of it. Climate change, financial crisis, bailout, and other phrases that try not to assign blame unless it’s in our country’s interests. We hear what these things are called and our mood is altered, our opinion on what’s being reported is changed.

I like to pay attention to how things are named because it affects how we deal with them, and it informs me about the opinions of those in power. Our media tends to favor those in power, and I tend not to, so when a name is settled upon I try to look behind the scenes and ask myself why those in power have chosen that name.


One thought on “Settling on a Name

  1. Have you read Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man? He has some really interesting things to say about names and naming.

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