VOX POPULI: Our public limited company does our names no favors

Enebish, a 45-year-old man living in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, is an electrician who mainly does electrical wiring for houses.

The other day I interviewed him online. “Is it cold there? ” I asked. “No, it’s hot this year. The temperature is now only minus 20 degrees,” he replied in a cheerful voice.

His name, Enebish, means “not that”. It’s a strange name, I commented. How come? I asked a rather rude question.

The name is designed to protect him from evil spirits saying, “It’s not that child who goes to the next world,” he explained.

His two older brothers died immediately after birth. His name reflects his parents’ ardent wish that their third son should live a long life, according to the Mongol.

It is indeed not uncommon in Mongolia to give a newborn a name intended to protect the child from demons. Two examples are nouns that mean “not just anyone” and “not a human being”. Surprisingly, there is even a name that means “nameless” – Nergui.

Reading the newspapers these days, I notice a disturbing trend – an increase in articles in which people’s real names are withheld for no good reason.

There are many fearsome demons not only in Mongolia but also in the rest of this world. The trend probably points to an increase in people demanding to remain anonymous to protect themselves from wanton slander or trouble.

Demons, however, probably feel comfortable in a world of anonymity. People’s names are products of human society, where others call them by name.

As I reflect on the growing number of people wishing to remain anonymous, I can’t help but feel both a sense of desolation and a sense of anxiety.

“It may be a strange name, but I really like my name,” Enebish said proudly. Any person’s name is important to that person.

A person’s name is his identity. These reflections make me realize the weight of responsibility involved in disclosing the names of individuals in news reports.

–The Asahi Shimbun, January 23

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that covers a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran writers from Asahi Shimbun, the column offers helpful perspectives and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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