The Rule of Names (Berlin XV)

Off iconic Berlin Friedrichstraße is a little dark side street soon to be renamed into Anton-Wilhelm-Amo-Straße, after the 18th century philosopher.

The name Mohrenstraße raises interesting questions: About the German word Mohr, which has been used since the 8th century, originally to designate inhabitants of Mauretania, which is derived from the Latin Maurus, which in turn might derive from the Greek μαυρός for black. But usage changes, and what once might have only designated origin, has long been a designation of a specific caste by another specific caste.

Then there are the speculations why this specific street carries that name, with even historical sources conveniently contradicting each other — was it a single black resident or a group of slaves from Africa that gave cause for this naming?

And, much more generally, it raises the question: What does give us the right to name something? I suspect that Genesis 2-23 has played a role.

It seems that philosophers, psychologists and writers agree that names are powerful. So if we inflict a name on a person, or, like here, on millions of people a once, shouldn’t we be a bit careful about how we use that name?

The imminent renaming is one step, and it’s easy to nod approval. But will we, for once, readjust our own thinking?

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