‘What’s in a Name?’ by Mladen Dolar


A name always bears a symbolic mandate. As soon as false pretenders appear, questions arise as to the symbolic mandate’s power, its validity and justification. Names refer to genealogies, yet thereby always involve a certain distribution of power. To arrogate a name is to arrogate power. There is a claim to power in every name, in assuming the social role that goes with it, in transmitting symbolic legacy, in social impact, in genealogical inscription. The story of false pretenders entails the moment of bemusement – one’s feeling that, really, one is always a false pretender, as there’s no way one could inhabit a name legitimately, naturally, feeling fully justified bearing the name one bears. No sufficient grounds can ever substantiate it; no name is ever covered by the Leibnizian principle of sufficient reason. The feeling of being an impostor, false pretender to a name, isn’t personal sentiment or idiosyncrasy; it’s a structural feeling accompanying names – their shadow and effect.