Let’s talk street signs. Let’s say a sign represents a term. In order to simplify this, we’ll name the street for now Washington Street.
Washington Street in the context of Chicago is different from the context of Mead, Kansas, but it is still a street. It may look quite simple in Kansas, have little traffic, etc., but it is still called Washington and is still a street. While the context has changed, there are a couple of things that have made it the same or at least similar–its name and its “streetness.”
Now, let’s mix this up a little bit. How about we change the name of Chestnut Street to Washington Street and give Washington Street the name Chestnut Street. Would anbody become confused with that proposition? It is likely that the people who live on those streets would still know how to get home, but what about people who are not as familiar with those streets but would still like to find their family or friends who live there? What if they only have the memory of the name of the street before it moved, and they come back, lost and totally confused? It is either that or give them a map with both names, the old and new so that they can still find their friends and family.
How about this? What if we call Chestnut and Washington streets both by the name of Washington? I tell you I live at 222 Washington Street just as another person does, but we don’t live together or on the same street. These streets are a couple of blocks apart. Our streets are just named the same thing. One thing to think about here, are those two streets and their contexts the same? Is the context of my 222 Washington the same as the other person’s 222 Washington? I have lots of trees and neighbors, but the other person lives right by the local water treatment facility. How would people find me, especially if they think there is only one street named Washington? By this point, why don’t we call all streets Washington to add to the confusion?
One more. Let’s call all the STOP signs on Mulberry Washington. Do people get to do whatever they want when they arrive at an intersection since all they see is Washington? What does Washington mean? Do people need to see STOP to know when and where to stop, or will they be able to guess, and can they trust that everyone else will guess correctly, too?
Okay, I lied. I have another. I suggest we call parallel lines intersections. Go to the intersection of Washington and Chestnut even though the two never meet. How long will it take you to find the intersection?
So, should we rename things to suit our whims, or should we venture out and search for the true meaning of the word?
If you go to another place (into another context), do you change meaning? If you have another name, do you become someone else? If you decided to call yourself Mollie but your name is Jeannie, do you become Mollie? What do you mean?