Have you named your car?
My wife names all of her cars and so far they’ve mainly been girls and I’m sure that it’s not the only example of someone naming an object. In film and books we see examples of characters speaking about vehicles or other inanimate objects as if they were long loved companions.
So why do we name objects? Why is it we imbue things with the features of people?
In terms of a car, it’s our horse. It’s how we get about. Who wouldn’t have named their horse? We want to look after our horse, make sure that said horse is fed and watered. Without said horse being fit and healthy, we would have found ourselves unable to do so many things in the far off past and indeed we’d find ourselves in a similar predicament today if our car is ‘lame’.
Also, by naming a thing, we’re giving the thing value. People have names, things do not. By giving a thing a name we’re admitting it’s importance to us and elevating it beyond other things as something we cherish. A favourite cuddly toy when we were children gets given a name and is suddenly so much more. We can all remember the horror of the moment we lost said toy and the world just crumbled around us.
We can see in so much of Science Fiction that spaceships are easily given character and value thanks to the addition of a name. The characters, and indeed the readers / viewers, are more willing to accept the situation of caring for an inanimate object and I’m sure that each of us have been gripped by those moments. I think about Captain Mal explaining about the power of Serenity, of Admiral Adama explaining that the Galactica had looked after them all but she would be facing her final battle, and then being the last to leave the Galactica before she’s scuttled. The space ships in so many examples of the gene are also more than just a mode of transport. They fulfil the role of home as well. We all want our home to be secure and safe and we care that no harm comes to it.
Then there are the robots and androids. Anyone not feel the tug at the heart strings during Wall-E? Could you imagine Mr. Data just being cast aside without there being any real consideration? Are we recognising traits of humanity in the object? Are we showing that we feel that a specific ‘thing’ has somehow earned the right to be looked upon as being closer to human? If one does, do all others?
We name our pets as they live with us and are part of our family. Farmers don’t name all of their chickens or sheep but they would their dog. Does that mean that if the farmer names his tractor then the dog and the tractor are seen as being at the same level?
I think that we as a species currently sit on the cusp of the line between man and machine being wildly blurred. Changing how human beings function and any mechanical augmentations which may occur could bring us closer to a machine which shares processes and programming to our brains. Everything running on electricity but through similar but different systems. We already recognise and accept feelings for the inanimate object in storytelling as I’ve listed above so is that the first step toward us as humans recognising a kinship with machines and then the rights of the ever advancing mechanisms towards an AI? Is the AI just a thing or is it more?
It’s a big question and is a good one to ponder when trying to create all kinds of ideas for stories, I just hope that all the names we give all of the things in our lives are well received by the objects.