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Naming – people, places, things, babies – is a very human activity. It is also a significant one, ‘a word or set of words by which a person or thing is known, addressed, or referred to’. We name our children before they are born, using names that our grandparents would have known – John, Mary, Bridget, Albert, or if none of these suit, something more glamorous. Names go in waves – not so long ago there was an entire generation of ‘Tiffanies’whose bearers, as the playwright Alan Bennett wryly observed, are now turning up in nursing homes. Or we fabricate them – ‘Joleen’ – or adopt place names – ‘Chelsea’ and ‘Britanny’. If we run out of names, we revert to mythology, the names of ancient gods and heroes. I know a ‘Zeus’, a ‘Thor’ and a ‘Persephone’, but I have yet to encounter, but soon, perhaps, in an age of ‘selfies’, a ‘Narcissus’.
In Anglo-Saxon cultures, we carry a given, or ‘Christian’ name, and a surname, and ordinarily use only the first name as a means of addressing someone, although at school, we were also known and addressed by, our surnames, which is common in hierarchical contexts. Women used to, routinely, drop their own surnames upon marriage and adopt that of their husband – a reflection, perhaps of their status as ‘chattels’, a practice which now, I am happy to say, seems to be dying out. People of the Catholic Faith often use the names of Saints, and more wisely, perhaps, sometimes leave the choice of name to the child him/herself at the time of their Confirmation.
Names change when cultures change. After 1066 and the Norman conquest of England, many old, often Germanic, Saxon names died out – the Godwines, Wulfsiges, Gunnhildas, Viking names, were abandoned. From the mid-thirteenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries, ‘John’, ‘Thomas’, ‘Robert’, ‘Richard’, and ‘William’ named over 70 per cent of the male English population. In 14th century England there were probably less than 1,000 ‘Christian’ names in use – in the 2009 British census, there were nearly 70,000. In the Puritan era, biblical names – ‘Isaac’, ‘Samuel’, ‘Abigail’ – came back into use, or names based on what were perceived to reflect Christian virtues – ‘Charity’, ‘Temperance’, ‘Prudence’, but not, so far as I can tell, ‘Chastity’.
The current Australian name-stock is larger and more varied than ever, and is evolving fast. And it is not a mono-cultural one. The commonest surname in the Melbourne phone book (if we still have one) is not ‘Smith’, it is ‘Ng’. Popular names come into and go out of, fashion in less than a decade. New names are freely created, and the names of celebrities, however temporary, are widely adopted. So there is an upsurge in ‘Justin’ and ‘Sebastian’ but none so far for ‘Gaga’, which in my childhood was used to describe someone ‘not the full quid’. Locker-room,
or football commentators’ surnames, are used to denote an often false familiarity by use of the suffix ‘y’ as in ‘Lingy’. In the sixties, ‘the hippy times’, we used, innocently, the names of natural phenomena. I have known a handful of ‘Meadows’, a smattering of ‘Clouds’, and even a ‘Rock’ or two. We were getting back to nature, turning our backs on sophistication, choosing simple foods, clothing made from badly handwoven materials. And who does not treasure a wobbly home-made coffee mug bearing the fingerprints of one of our grandmothers?
Brand Australia is riding high in Asia at the moment, and Australian brand names are freely and illegally employed across the market spectrum by unscrupulous manufacturers and vendors for products ranging from raw milk to baby foods. There is an entire column yet to be written, on ‘Brand Tasmania’. Business names are often seen as a form of property, and their use is protected. My wife’s business was contracted to make a product for the Hard Rock Cafe when it was all the vogue, but we weren’t allowed to call it by that name. They put it on their menu incognito, which was a great shame, and for her, a missed opportunity for publicity. In the world of fashion, brand names, often that of the designer, are a zealously protected property. Think ‘Gucci’, ‘Rolex’. But as the value of a brand increases, so does piracy of it. The rules which once governed language have been abandoned in the frantic search for novelty. I am looking at a page of newly coined business names, including ‘Blushia’, ‘Heavany’, ‘Deluxey’.
I started this column with the idea of looking at the vexatious practice of ‘naming rights’. It got away from me as columns often do. It will keep for another day, when we’ll have a look at such phenomena as the ‘Blundstone Arena’. Meanwhile I’m considering a personal name change – once in a time of acute puppy love, I gave myself three, each of which was more glamorous than ...
John Fleming II
Snapshot of a modern community
Governance is the principle mechanism used by our society to manage the distribution of resources. Good governance is a product of balance – too much and the bulk of available resources are consumed by the process, too little and chaos enters into the equation at the cost of social equity.
Communal activity is a mix of public and private sector mechanisms. In theory, the public sector concerns itself with equity issues while the private sector drives productivity.
The public sector consists of four elements. One, the general public, two, an independent judiciary, three, elected representatives charged with making responsible decisions about resource distribution, and four, various specialist departments available to support, communicate and advise all of the above. Competent governance requires those four elements to work together, with each team member respecting the role of the others. From the perspective of the general populace, the system is most functional when it is in balance.
Working as intended, governance will neutralise pressure from the private sector to covet public assets for personal gain. The efficaciousness of this strategy depends on communal assets remaining in the hands of the community. Natural resources are communal assets and while private interests may well be effective at ‘value adding’ to natural resources, they can not, other than on paper, morally own them.
The practice of governance is a management exercise, synonymous with sound animal husbandry. The priorities in both instances are to manage the harvest of natural resources sustainably. In the case of the farmer, the two options are (a) to improve soil productivity and (b) to lift the average performance of the herd. With governance, the options are (a) ensuring that the integrity of all natural resources is preserved for future generations, and (b) lifting the average performance of its constituents. The principle foci of the latter being education, health, communications
A government’s involvement with natural resource distribution is intended to be a socially accountable function, designed to foster inter-generational equity. In theory, having control over communal assets, enables the public sector to support, regulate, and coordinate private sector activity, thereby enhancing gross output. On the other hand, private sector activity is a fragmented exercise involving the aspirations of individuals, corporate entities, small business, religious groups, plus a multitude of special interest agencies and organisations. It uses doctrine, commercially valuable knowledge and innovative products to compete for resources. The last thing it desires is equity.
The private sector provides service for reward. The cost of a service includes materials, overheads, a margin for error, and fair reward for effort, which traditionally, would about double material costs. Recent trends have seen numerous situations where private sector profits are increasing by many orders of magnitude, both as a consequence of mega corporations gaining monopolies, and via corrupt marketing practices that effectively blackmail consumers. The price of products that are essential for personal well being, or that are marketed as being essential, are frequently well in excess of their production and distribution costs.
In concert with a lucrative blackmail agenda, the private sector is accessing a multitude of environmental and governmental subsidies which it rarely passes on to the consumer. The bottom line, is emerging social inequity and accelerating deterioration of our planets’ carrying capacity.
Private sector disruption of social balance can be measured as the percentage, over time, of the public purse that is being diverted from public sector responsibilities, such as education, communication, infrastructure and health, into private sector profits. The graph should be flat or dipping, rather than the exponential upward curve that many modern economies now experience. Another measure that indicates the rate of social decline, is the extent of regulation being introduced specifically to support corporate interests, and erode freedom of speech.
We can observe the last nails being driven into the coffin of social equity as responsibility for more and more essential services, including communication, education and health, are transferred to the private sector to be “commercialised” for profit. In the process, social and environmental considerations are being discounted with hollow regrets. The corporate sector, is profiting from its exploitation of both natural and human resources without regard to natural limits. It has even been guilty of introducing legislation to make it illegal for representative governments to interfere with its rapine intent.
Our elected representatives show little inclination to do other than support the status quo, and sell off the farm to give a false impression of their fiscal genius. However, the buck for that stops with us, the general public. We each have a conscience, something both governments and corporations lack.
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