Ears on the Wall Syndrome: There are only three kinds of Johns in the world...

19 March 2013

I am a great fan of William Shakespeare, although I dreaded having to study his writings at school. Of all the Shakespearean plays my English teacher used to push down my throat, Romeo and Juliet was my favourite; and I can still recall the scene whereby Juliet makes reference to the importance (or the insignificance) of the house of Capulet and Montague, implying it meant nothing to her and should not prevent her and Romeo being together.

Dr Featuna'i Liua'ana and author of Ears on the Wall syndrome

Dr Featuna’i Liua’ana

Juliet says: O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name. Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet…What’s in a name? Juliet’s endeavour not to allow their famous, and yet feuding, family names come between her and her beloved Romeo, almost had a happy ending.

I learnt a big lesson from this one Shakespearean play: there is, not only charisma, but also much influence and manipulation in a name. And, it is no wonder that throughout history, the power of a name and its value has being immortalised in prose, poetry, songs, tales, epics, and even religious ceremonies.

And throughout history many have tried to figure out how a person’s name influences a person’s character.  One thing is certain; a grouping of letters, and even symbols, which is given to identify and recognise a unique person, comes from our ability to recognise language, and that ability to recognise language stems from the human mind, which is what separates us humans from  the rest of creation.

It has also been said that the letters and symbols which ‘named’ us comes with the mana and DNA of those who have borne the same letters and symbols in the past. For each name has a background and a meaning, which, apparently, all who bore such letters and symbols will try their best to emulate. Some have even suggested that such letters and symbols, which we call ‘names’, can influence how we think and act, how we love and hate, how we give and take, and how we live and die.

My sudden interest on the question of ‘What’s in a name?’ in the aforementioned Shakespearean masterpiece, led me to think about my own name and how it has influenced my own character. I then thought about the names my wife and I have given to our own children, and how the meanings of their names, and the characters of those in our families who have borne the names before them, have influenced who they are.

I then realised that all of my children’s names were unusual, from a Samoan perspective, except for one – John. And, he turned out okay; his greatest characteristic is his generosity for others. It kind of justified that my wife and I have named our son well. But, I have always been a fan of the name ‘John’; it was common in the genealogies of my own family and also in my wife’s family lineage. But, most importantly, it’s a great biblical name for Christians; especially when, in Hebrew, ‘John’ means ‘God is generous’.

And then, my ‘happy space’ was invaded when the name ‘John Key’ popped into my mind and I realised that not all who are named ‘John’ are generous. It made me realise that, perhaps, the not so generous ‘Johns’ are reserved only for those who choose to be politicians. So I perused the list of our current Members of Parliament (MPs) to see how many MPs are named ‘John’, and Lord and behold, I discovered there are three…no surprises there! But what was interesting, was the fact that all three ‘John’ are in the National Party.

In theological interpretations, it is said that the number “three” is God’s number…and I can’t help but think that’s one of the impressions among the underprivileged, is that our John PM is playing god with ordinary New Zealanders’ lives. And that kind of deduction cannot be dismissed lightly, as over the last three years, the government, under the leadership of John, supported by the other ‘Johns’ and other National party partisans, have not been generous with their policies and their politics.

Just ask: the families living in poverty, and living in the streets; just ask the beneficiaries who barely scrape enough to survive.

Just ask the unemployed who has been out of work for years with no show of finding a job on the horizon; the students who have been struggling to pay for higher education and many opting out to find work to support their poverty stricken families. Just ask those who had made sacrifices for this country but have been compelled to  emigrate without a golden handshake. Just ask the hungry school children who turn up to school just to have a piece of toast and a drink of milo; and just ask the government who has taken from the underclass to maintain the upper class – John MP, as far as our country is concern, is not the Key to generosity.

Rodney Hide, writing for the NZ Herald, was being very generous in his comments regarding the government’s lack of generosity in his article, The under-class have no hope. I applaud his frankness, in suggesting that successive New Zealand governments have created an underclass who have no hope to improve their present station in the future. I believe things are a lot worse than ever. But, I am a bit bemused with the ‘Johns’ behaviour in the National Party, as I am sure when they were named ‘John’ at birth, their parents had a fair idea what the name ‘John’ meant – God is generous – and would have expected their sons to grow up and be ‘generous.’

So, what happened?

Why are these ‘Johns’ not like my John and other Johns who are true to their names? I was sharing with a few elderly ‘generous’ Pacific Islands gentlemen just South of the bridge at Mangere last weekend; there were no ‘Johns’ in our group, although one gentleman called himself ‘J’.

The discussion on Samoan chiefly names and their origins occupied our time, and soon the discussions shifted to the meanings of our own unique names, and I came away realising that Samoans’ names can mean and/or represent something positive or negative. And ‘J’ suggested that, maybe the name ‘John’ (God is generous) also has a negative implication.

So, over the weekend, I did some digging, and I discovered that there are three kinds of ‘John ‘ in the world. Firstly, the generous big ‘John’ which we have come to embrace and respect, and secondly, a little ‘John’ – no not the one that stole from the poor and gave to the rich – but the one with the foul stench, per se, the toilet. And, thirdly, another little ‘John’ who was renowned as a ‘prostitute’s client’. It seems, throughout history, every now and then, when someone does not live up to the positive expectations and meaning of their names, even the name ‘John’ itself (God is generous), that person was labelled john.

Society and their critics did not distinguish between a toilet or a prostitute’s client, because both, in popular view, depicted an ungenerous and devious person. But, the usage of the name ‘John’ as a reference to ‘toilet’ and ‘prostitute’s client’, was not to shame but to disguise indecorous pastimes and to recognise certain achievements. For instance, to hide the identity of a prostitute’s client, all of them were called ‘John’ from the expression ‘John Doe’ which referred to ‘a stranger or an unknown guest,’ because the name ‘John’ was those common name at the time – a touch of ‘Smith’ in today’s reckoning. But, in using the name ‘John’ to refer to ‘toilet’, sounds worse today than intended back in the  sixteenth century.

The name ‘John’ was popularised by the British to acknowledge the invention of the very first ‘flush toilet’ around 1591 by one of the Royal cousins, Sir John Harington. John Harington himself did not call his invention ‘John’ but had named it ‘Ajax’; and later wrote a book about it called, A New Discourse Upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax.

What strikes me about this book on John Harington’s invention was the fact that it was a political attack on Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, whom John Harington alluded to as the stercus (the Latin sounds more couth than the actual word used) that was poisoning society. In a sense, the toilet symbolised a negative political point of view.

Last week, many of our Pacific people in the South of Auckland were contemplating giving up the fight to survive, under the constant bombardment of the present government, as they felt they were just fighting a losing battle. Especially with parliament passing the second reading of the same-sex marriage bill, the courts favouring the government’s plan to sell state own assets, the education ministry finally getting their way in implementing various school systems, and changing, closing, and merging schools while supporting elite schools to the death of state schools, and the banks doing what they want and charging what they want without any government regulations.

The thought of just throwing in the towel and adopting the mentality of ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ was positively entertained with the results of political polls showing New Zealanders supporting John PM and MP Johns, and the National party.

And, just when many people were beginning to accept that the few weeks of silence and government inactivity recently, is an indication of no more ungenerous activities taking place for a while under John’s watch, we are suddenly inundated with a foul stench of dishonest political dealings and devious actions regarding John’s negotiations of state assets sales, SkyCity and, more recently, the mismanagement of Solid Energy which highlighted the government’s role in its demise.

It has been suggested before Parliament’s Commerce Select Committee that Solid Energy management resisted taking on more debt and pay higher dividends, as the State Owned Enterprises Minister, Simon Power and the Treasury had advised. It was, in the words of John Palmer, the Chairman of Solid Energy’s Board, a debt a lot higher than what the Board “thought was an appropriate level of gearing given the nature of the industry we were involved in.”

But John PM had suggested, soon after it was revealed Solid Energy had a $389 million debt, that Solid Energy had sought from the government a $1 billion injection into the Solid Energy, but it seems the stench of lies continues to be flushed down the tube as the generous John Palmer has categorically denied John PM’s claim.

It seems the welfare of New Zealanders and their children, have been bargained away, and not well looked after, because of the lack of generosity and big-heartedness by our John PM, just to make a few bucks to reduce the redness in the government’s books and, more importantly, to fulfil its political prophecies and promises to its elite clientele. The passing of the buck and the lack of ownership of responsibility has left a stench as John and his Ministers and the government departments responsible for these continuous farcical craps, prefer to remain John Doe.

One online reporter has labelled John MP ‘Teflon John’ because of his ability to avoid and brush off many of the controversial issues that have surfaced in relation to the government, especially when the political polls seem to confirm such labels. But, all I can say is, there are only three kinds of ‘John’ we can be in this world. We can be either the ‘generous’ John, or we can become John Does, or be mocked as the other john…the political symbolism of one who was poisoning a society.

So, what’s in a name?


Just ask Juliet who said to Romeo, That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

So be proud of and live your name every day, and continue to seek the peace and prosperity of this country to which God has given us to dwell. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper…




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