Names are like pills. In the smallest breadth, they encapsulate time and space, history and identity, and can instantly rupture presence and gush emotions. Have you ever come across your country’s name while abroad? There is always a second of recognition, a deep-rooted feeling of pride and belongingness. Your sight lingers on those few letters, re-reading them as you ignore the rest of the content.
That reaction is probably even more powerful when your GP refers you to an oncologist, and you apprehensively run into the imposing, merciless 3D letters of the signage that grimly announces you have just arrived at the Cancer Centre. An absurd feeling considering it is just the hospital’s name. Or is it?
Why names matter
We meticulously ponder naming our children and pets. Business owners know well the significance of a clever name, one that encompasses distinctiveness and opportunities. Occasionally, a name breaks its shell and hatches millions of loyal bearers, folks who not only follow but also identify themselves with it – just ask Yankees fans or Harley-Davidson riders. Words such as Apple and Amazon metamorphosed from their significance in their original bodies and flooded the globe. That’s how commanding a name can be.
Names drive emotions. For example, for many people, the word Coppelia reminds of the famous French ballet. If you have seen it and had a good time, that word might bring joyous memories of the show. The sight of that word alone brightens your mood. That’s for most people in the world, except for Cubans. For Cubans, the same word might spark an ice-cream craving since Coppelia is a popular ice cream parlour at the heart of Havana where thousands gather to quench the heat of the tropical sun. Hence, names similar to other visual signals can render an individualized set of moods that depends on each person’s life experience.
From personal emotions to international commerce, names carry an immeasurable impact on every aspect of life. Thus, if a myriad institutions, including nursing homes and independent clinics, are named to nurture, why aren’t the Cancer Centres?
Cancer Centres: A noble mission, an ill name
Across the list of the world’s 200 best-rated oncological centres, according to Newsweek, 83 bear the word cancer in either the institution, a department’s name or both; eight of them are among the top 10 listed. Cancer Centres are pragmatically titled by the situation they are solving – like fire stations or hurricane centres. But cancer, in contrast to the loss of material goods and meteorological events, rattles the very essence of your existence – both physically and mentally. Isn’t it then a contradiction to title the victims’ refuge with the name of the fiend?
Perhaps the reason is that emotions are constructed from personal and unique life experiences. Unless you or a loved one had or have cancer, that six-letter word just means a health condition, a scientific challenge, or hovering bad news no one wants to hear about – that’s what you have heard, read and accepted since you were born.
Those who work in health care do not see it from the same standpoint as patients. They cannot. Of course, they are sympathetic to the patients’ feelings and struggles, but they fight from a battlefield’s fortified position. For authorities, cancer is their focus, their main target, their best possible word to name the hospital.
Patients have a different perspective because the meaning changes if the beast knocks at your very door. For cancer is a word that dampens confidence and obscures purpose, a term that induces distress, fear, perhaps even guilt. A word that can be associated with death. For the set of emotions that the C-word triggers, even if unconsciously, depends not only on your antecedents and life history but also on your vantage point.
But, cancer is not the only possible name. Medical specialties such as cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology often do not name their institutions after the health conditions they treat. Moreover, the names of nearly half the previously mentioned listing of oncological centres refer to the area of medicine they cover: Oncology. An abstract term for many people, but at least one that does not hopelessly bandage a disease to patients.
For oncology is not the disease, but rather the science to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, the resource that patients need, their only target, the best possible word to name the hospital.