What’s in a name?

As a customary, and indeed, necessary expression of language, names are a familiar aspect of human communication, a way to create and understand meaning in the world. Not only can they make the unknown identifiable, but also furnish comfort in the familiar. Sometimes descriptive and sometimes determining the idea of an entity by virtue of being associated descriptions, names can be both rigid and casual designators. But is nomenclature simply the result of a need to classify and order the knowledge we produce?

“All seagulls look as though their name is Emma”, declared the German poet Christian Morgenstern. Though Morgenstern was known for his nonsense poetry, there was sincerity in his suggestion that some linguistic labels are perfectly suited to the concepts they signify, indicating that words have the power to communicate emblematic ideas beyond their meaning. As soon as a concept is labeled, the way people perceive that concept is altered. It is difficult to imagine a truly neutral label, because words, by their nature, evoke images.

In this issue of Paprika!, we explore nominative codification in architecture – the relationships between signifiers (words) and the signified (architectural ideas), in the semantics and syntax of names that elicit the poetic imagery of Fallingwater and the clinical objectivity of House II. As a medium of projects, both real and speculative, architectural discourse and practice is ever-christening its subject matter. Like the image, the name represents distillations of our work, ideas, and perhaps by extension, ourselves. The words we use to label our projects, our practices, and treatises are as deliberate and designed a portrayal as the images we use to illustrate them. Not only do they serve as a title, but as expressions of our understanding of that subject matter and the connotations we wish to elicit. So at a time when the making and dissemination of images is so prolific, and the consumption of information so visually oriented, we ask: what’s in a name?