In arguably his most famous play, Shakespeare’s female protagonist asks a well known question about the substance of a name;
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
I haven’t really thought about this until now, but Shakespeare is like the king of the English language (other authors come and go but Shakespeare will seemingly forever be studied by English students) and yet in this very famous scene the character wants to disregard the word (in this case a surname) as a means of describing the idea or person that it represents. This of course goes against the grain of history in which names carried authority, tradition, and identity.
Similarly, 19th Century Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is quoted as saying
Now without getting into a full blown discussion on post-modernity, relativism, ‘progressive social norms’ and ‘subjective reality’ (I know, this sounds like an oxymoron, but I’ll leave that for later), I have to say both men were ahead of their time with the notion of wanting to strip words of their definitive meaning, instead freeing up concepts, ideas and even identities to remain undefined and unrestricted. However, I also think this notion is, at times, extremely unhelpful.