Dropping Names

Homer, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Moses, Marcus Aurelius, Ovid, Josephus, the Bede, Mallory, Dante, Machiavelli, Marco Polo, Martin Luther, St. Francis, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hugo Ball, Henry Miller, Frank Herbert, Ann Frank, Buckminster Fuller, Ivan Ilyich, Arnold Toynbee, Barbara Tuchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, James Madison, George R. Stewart, Samuel Clemens, Walt Whitman, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Alan Watts, Robert Persig, Richard Brautigan, Isabelle Allende, Franz Kafka, Nikos Kazankakis, Sun Tzu, Paul of Tarsus, Siddhartha Gautama, Edgar Allan Poe, Annie Dillard, Dee Brown, Robert Heinlein, Kurt Vonnegut, Jerzy Kosinski, George Orwell, Carl Sandburg, Jack Kerouac, Giorgio Vasari, Leo Tolstoy, Arthur Rimbaud, Kahlil Gibran, Pablo Neruda, James Clavell, Steven King, Ernest Hemingway, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tim Severin, Leonard Cohen, and Charles Dickens.

Whew, I just wrote until the names stopped coming, in a few cases I had to research the name by referencing the title of the book. I’m getting older and the connection between the two is not always automatic. But the list could go on…

This is my customized list of name dropping. I sometimes tap into it during a conversation, but mostly I go there with the written word. This is far better because I can do a little deeper research to include a relevant, or at least pithy quote. One must be careful not to overdo this. One or two name drops seems about right. More than that seems forced and pretentious. Ha! It’s all a ruse!

What is closer to the truth is that all name dropping is probably less than honest. So why do writers, or speakers, flee to this particular tool?

I can only search my own reasons, and none of them are very ethical. I was told that the “Fear of being found a fraud,” is universal, and almost as common as the fear of height.

It is a very power drive to establish credentials, or gravitas, when speaking, or writing. “I am not a fraud, here is my resume to prove my worth,” Awkward. Dropping a name or two solves several problems. If the name that is dropped is familiar, then there is an immediate connection. It is almost like an icon shortcut. Quote a famous line from a Star Trek episode and you have won over hundreds of Trekkies. Currently, I have seen quotes from The Office as a bonding agent.

It is also possible that this drives a further wedge, either because they actively dislike subject of the name drop, or worse yet, they have no idea what you are talking about. For example, I never watched the movie Twilight, nor have I seen an episode of Friends. Yet both are on some people’s name dropping list.

This use of name dropping doesn’t really have a suspicious motivation. We want to communicate better, we want to be understood, and maybe even effective. Making a connection with the audience is a proper thing to do. The difficulty is that there is another side of the coin. Name dropping can “gang-up” in the conversation. It isn’t just my opinion, but here is a quote from so-in-so that proves my point. Of course the context is rarely given so you don’t really know anything.

And in addition, the fact that you drag someone famous into the conversation builds your reputation as someone that is knowledgeable. In many cases this is like a secret handshake. The name dropping provides mutual entry into the temple of the elite.

I have seen this as a particularly useful tool in giving sermons directed to millennials. The pastor gets you, the pastor is one of you. It’s only a little manipulative.

The potential for name dropping as a tool to build your ego is great.

The truth is that I would like that beginning paragraph to be present before everything that I write or say. I have used each of those individuals as cornerstones, building blocks, or lintels in the structure of my being. The friends who know me, know this already, strangers do not. I could drop a name or two and maybe that works, but it would be a guess. Force everyone to read the entire list might catch the odd and terribly weird connection that will make a difference.

My favorite Richard Brautigan quote is, “For fear of being alone, I am so many things that are really not me.”

For fear of not communicating, I drag in so many articulate people to prop up my weak presentation.

Maybe I need a new list.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
This entry was posted in Commentary. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply