Through the exploration of naming practices, the To Be—Named project convenes diverse communities and scholars and artists in critical conversations around the cultural politics of language. We take a multi-modal, cross-cultural, and interdisciplinary approach to encourage the inclusion of different cultural and disciplinary knowledge systems. Our three branches for communication include an edited volume (contracted with Routledge), a traveling exhibition, and this website. As an integrated whole, these come together to merge textual, visual, and aural forms of communication and create synergies between commonly siloed knowledge communities, disciplines, regions, scholars, and institutions.
During a critical turning point in how the balances of power and authority in the world are being re-defined, the use of language has become a flash point over who has the right to define whom. Speaking directly to this, the To Be—Named project establishes an inclusive scholarly and creative platform on a topic around which all individuals can relate—names. Understanding how different communities bring their worlds into being also requires diverse perspectives and modes of expression—such as art, songs, poetry, and text—to be recognized.
Spanning from personal narratives and art to Indigenous taxonomies, regional conceptualizations of belonging through placenames and kinship, to environmental law giving rivers the same status as people, To Be—Named provides participants and interested audiences with an immersive environment to explore this diversity of creative expression and processes of identity formation around the globe. The subject of names and naming has also been fragmented among separate disciplines. This website provides a widely cross-disciplinary exploration of the cultural politics of names and naming from scholars around the world in anthropology (cultural, biological, archaeology and applied), Indigenous studies, linguistics, art, cultural studies, history of science and technology, world and comparative literature, history, poetry, film, museums and archives, library and information science, gender studies, and geography.
Acts of naming are not merely descriptive or representative—they have creative capacity and actively take part in shaping the interactions and worlds in which they are embedded. Our aim is not to provide a definitive treaty on the linguistic practice of naming, but to help shape in a timely and constructive way the discussions about the power dynamics involved in, and consequences from, who defines who through naming.
The origins of To Be—Named lie in a partnership between the European Union funded CoLing project—a multi-national multi-institutional program focused on minority languages, the Experimental Humanities Collaborative Network which links university hubs around the world, and the Recovering Voices program at the Smithsonian Institution, which supports community efforts in language revitalization.
Through this global network, we aim to alter problematic prior dynamics between junior/senior, West/East and North/South, and between English-speaking academic spheres and Indigenous ones. We have encouraged the use of personal narratives to enable scholars to speak in the first person and, where possible, in their Mother Tongue about their own culture/s and naming practices—not just as observers—but from firsthand experiences. Personal narratives not only directly address and consider issues of power, but “speak” to them and show how the power and effect of names unfold at multiple intersecting scales. We envision the outcome is a rich tapestry of perspectives from scholars around the world, including scholars from Kyrgyzstan, Siberia, Palestine, Philippines, Hawaii, Germany, Mexico, Greece, Mozambique, Poland, Fiji, Serbia, China, Nigeria, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Guatemala, Colombia, as well as those of multi-sited multilingual lives and identities between New Zealand, UK, Singapore, US, Canada, South Africa, Germany, and Australia.
This diversity of perspectives has helped us to both trouble and provide meaningful insights into how language and identity politics and decolonizing methodologies have played out in different contexts—not just as theoretical concepts—but as lived experiences. Colonizing and decolonizing are not viewed here as monolithic concepts that emerge only from Western positionalities. Instead, we include the multiple scales and regional concepts of colonization. Names are a way to ground theories of colonization and decolonization—concepts that, if too abstract, distract from understanding how they are lived. Where possible, we also aim to develop this site as a multilingual one that allows scholars to share their work not only in their Mother Tongue, but in multiple languages that could provide new pathways for scholarly collaboration.