Names are important, what we call other people, places and things is matters. It not only defines them, but it designates their importance, their precedence and how we feel about them.
I’m currently in a village that has dealt with a fairly name change. My LCF explained that the first word in the name of my village used to be “Soviet,” when Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union. The name has since been changed, along with many other names of towns and things throughout Ukraine, since the nation’s independence in 1991.
When he mentions the Soviet Union or the current struggles that Ukraine is going through, my LCF describes them as “the situation…” that they are going through or that they have been through. Just like names, the way we describe things is important too. It’s interesting to hear his perspective on a lot of these things. That’s mostly the only perspective that I’ve heard since I barely have enough Ukrainian to ask where the bathroom is. The ‘situation’ is largely a neutral way to describe Ukrainian independence. My LCF has strong opinions on a lot of things, but that is apparently not one of them.
Further, he said that he didn’t think the name mattered much and that he didn’t think it needed to be changed. Basically, he said that that had been the name for such a long time, he didn’t see why it should be changed. He mentioned that it was more confusing to make a change to the name.
When he was describing this, it reminded me of similar issues in America. We’ve got our own sordid history. As a nation, we have some issues figuring out how to acknowledge and honor those complex figures. Our own First Lady mentioned that the White House, which I got to see for the first time in D.C. during Peace Corps staging, was built by slaves.
Similarly, we’ve got buildings, monuments, national holidays named after and dedicated to complicated individuals and groups who did great things for our country, but also owned slaves, cheated on their wives, were clearly products of the time in which they lived, or led complicated personal lives which were harmful to those around them or to our nation in general.
Figuring out how to respect them for their positive accomplishments, without sweeping their faults under the rug, acknowledging both the positive and negative impacts that their efforts have left on history, is a balancing act. It’s something that Ukraine is dealing with it from its most recent history and complicated past, as well as something that the United States is still sorting out from its own complicated past.