“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
In William Shakespeare’s play about doomed young lovers, Juliet tells her beloved Romeo that his name doesn’t matter; it is his essence that she loves.
But the quote, one of Shakespeare’s most famous, belies Juliet’s understanding of the power of names. She knows exactly how important Romeo’s family name is to him, and she is trying (successfully) to convince him to leave it behind, in order for him to cross the barrier created by warring families.
Names matter. Because we commonly use Latin names for the books of the Torah, it’s easy to forget that the second book is not named for the saga of the exodus from Egypt, but rather is called in Hebrew Shemot, Names.
Not only does it begin with a list of men’s names, those who went to Egypt with Jacob, it continues with the remarkable story of the midwives who rescued Hebrew babies from state-ordered murder, two women who are celebrated for their courage and whose names were Shifrah and Puah. Although the Torah doesn’t tell us this explicitly, it is easy to imagine that among the lives they saved was a baby named Moses.
This week, an 8-year-old migrant boy from Guatemala died in U.S. custody, the second child in three weeks. His name was Felipe Alonzo-Gomez. The first was a 7-year-old girl, also a migrant seeking asylum with a family member. Her name was Jakelin Caal Maquin.
A non-profit called No More Deaths says that thousands of migrants have died of dehydration and heat exposure trying to cross into America illegally. Many of them might have survived, if Border Control agents had left alone the water jugs and other supplies left in the desert by humanitarian groups. Instead, according to the publication The Hill, there are “videos of border agents slicing plastic water jugs and pouring the water onto the ground.”
The migrants who died in the desert by the thousands are, to us, nameless. Much like the countless Children of Israel who died building Pharaoh’s cities. But knowing the names of Felipe and Jakelin can help us see all of them as individuals, humans just like you and me.
It is easy to turn our heads, to look away from the misery and pretend that people aren’t risking their lives just to live in this country. Harder to do when they have names. When we are forced to realize that they are just like us.
What’s in a name? It’s the difference between “illegal alien” and Felipe.