“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”
In the week a Yorkshire based care home made headlines by being accused of “demeaning” its residents by calling them colloquial terms such as “love” or “darling”, I am reminded of the above quote from Romeo and Juliet which made me wonder – how much power is held in a name, and do we need to be mindful of this?
Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) clearly believe names have the propensity to cause offence as they marked down the Brackenley residential home in a report, partly because they felt the terms staff used to address people with learning disabilities in their care could potentially be construed as “patronising”.
Stephanie Kirkman Meikle, chief executive of Harrogate Skills 4 Living, which runs Brackenley, expressed surprise by this finding and insisted they would not ban staff using these affectionate terms.
“Some residents have their own terms of endearment that they asked to be called. One likes to be known as Parsnip because that’s what she is known as in her family, so that’s what we call her,” she said.
“We always discuss these things with residents and it is in their care plans. We would never call someone something they don’t want.”
This incident highlights how language, even in its most innocent form, can potentially impact on how organisations are perceived and can divide opinion.
An online poll on itv.com found 89.9% of people who voted agreed with the care home and did not find the terms “love”, “darling” and “sweetie” demeaning. The majority of online news outlets also reported in favour of the care home and this incident was largely seen as another example of political correctness gone mad.
Dr Barrie M Rhodes, a linguist and member of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, told The Telegraph: “The use of the word love is part of our heritage – God knows how many centuries it has been going on but a very long time. Why anybody in an inspectorate would bother to get their hackles up about anything like that I’ve no idea.”
As this is not the first time Yorkshire dialect has come under attack, it’s understandable that Dr Barrie was keen to defend his local tongue. Last April, a similar furore was caused when Tour de France guides in Yorkshire were banned from using certain greetings during their day-to-day role. Again, “love” and “darling” arose as possibly offensive terms. At the time, Sir Michael Parkinson, born in South Yorkshire, labelled the decision “daft” and went as far as to say the word “love” is what “Yorkshire is all about”.
I have recently relocated to North Yorkshire from London to join Acceleris and although there is the initial culture shock of being surrounded by a different accent than I’m accustomed to, I am quite endeared with the local terms up North. This, of course, could be attributed to the novelty factor involved – down in ‘Sarf’ London, I was regularly referred to as “mate” but rarely heard “love”. In both cases, I was aware that these throwaway terms hurled at me were not intended to cause upset.
It seems likely that problems with language occur when names are deliberately intended to patronise. David Cameron’s infamous “calm down, dear” gaffe is a lesson in how words take on a certain meaning depending on the situation and tone they’re expressed in. The most sensible approach to interacting with others is to use common sense. David Cameron could have avoided this PR blunder by making a better judgement call on what would be deemed acceptable in those circumstances.
At Writers Inc. we understand how crucial it is to get your language right. We are content and editorial specialists who understand how to convey your message in the best light.
Above all, it appears reasonable to try to always consider the context in which you’re speaking and, failing that, remember that words are subjective, love.