What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet;
– Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii
But is that really true? The words we use are powerful. The words we use convey more than just the physical object or the physical act. The words we use show how we feel about the idea.
For example, all of these words describe an adult human female: woman, lady, gal, miss, madam, hussy, floozy, wench, ma’am, babe, broad, chick, damsel. Each describes the exact same physical object. However each name conveys a totally different idea. Those words are anything but interchangeable. You’d turn up your nose at a floozy but think a lady smells sweet.
I have noticed that some universities have a department called the Disability Resource Center, while other universities have a department called the Ability Resource Center. Both departments do the exact same thing. But it makes a difference if you are focusing on the disabilities rather than the abilities. Words, labels, names, carry a lot of weight behind them.
I have been thinking about the names we use for things a lot lately. Right now I serve in the Young Women organization in the LDS Church. These are young women ages 12-18. Yet it is surprising how often they are referred to as “girls.” I have even been having to stop myself, or correct myself, a lot as well. Just as I think of a “woman” and a “chick” differently, I think of “young women” and “girls” differently. It’s a mental shift in my head. If I think of them as girls than I think they need to be entertained, coddled, and led. If I think of them as young women then I stand next to them and learn with them and give them opportunities to lead.
With the control I like to have some times it has been very interesting to watch myself step back and let the young women take charge. No, things don’t happen as smoothly as they might have if the adults had run everything (sometimes they happen better than if the adults had tried to run things), but the next time those young women plan an activity it goes even better. I learn a lot about myself, and them, when I think of them as young women who will be adults when they leave rather than looking at them as girls and children.
Think about it. What difference does it make if I call it Young Women Camp (what it’s actually called) or if I call it girls camp? What difference does it make to them if I call them girls when I’m talking to them or if I call them young women, or even ladies if I feel the need to save breath on syllables? It makes a difference. Nobody would call a 3-year-old a young woman, but there seems to be no problem calling a 17-year-old a girl. Calling them young women acknowledges their growth, maturity, and abilities. In my mind Young Women Camp is a preparation for their roles as women while girls camp is a fun diversion while school is out.
The young women I work with are incredible (and I’m not just saying that because I know some of them stalk my blog). They have big plans and they will see them happen. They have strong testimonies and caring hearts. I see the solid foundations they are laying for their lives and am humbled that I get to play a small part in that. They have grown from the sweet girls they were to the blossoming young women that they are.