On Naming Unknowns

“It follows therefore that we can give a name to anything in as far as we can understand it.”
Thomas Aquinas, ST Ia, Q. 13, A. 1, co.

For Thomas, naming is preceded by understanding. But what if there is a second kind of naming, a naming of unknowns? This kind of naming is more algebraic, where the name is a placeholder for the unknown thing, until more knowledge is received about the thing in question. The best part about this kind of x-naming is that the name chosen will accrue extra layers of meaning over time as more and more is learned about the unknown thing.

I’ll take this one step further. Anytime we name anything, we are naming something that is at least partially unknown to us. Therefore, every act of naming is at least partially algebraic. Any time we use that word, we are plugging it into several larger equations of meaning, including the sentence, the paragraph, our lived lives, our shared cultural memory, etc. As we provisionally “solve” other parts of the equation of meaning, we attach more and more provisional meaning to a word which may have originally meant only “x = unknown.”

I’m sure many, many people have said this before me, but I don’t know what the terms are for this kind of x-naming. Do you know what it’s called? If yes, please tell me.


One thought on “On Naming Unknowns

  1. I’m reminded of binomial nomenclature (the system of naming species into a two word name, ex. homo sapiens) and biological classification. What happens when a biologist encounters a new species? They certainly don’t have a name for it, but compare it’s attributes to what is already known. Is it a plant or animal? Does it have wings? Legs? Claws? How many? Etc… Through observation, discovery, and natural attributes of the thing itself a name is finally chosen that fits it itself into it’s proper taxonomic rank.

    The use of this observation and deduction is synonymous to your use of an algebraic formula. Does the name under question fit the formula? Follow preconceived algebraic rules?

    So to answer you’re question maybe, theological nomenclature.

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