Strange, I know. Wearing name tags in Meeting is one of those Quaker traditions hard to shake- even though it's not particularly traditional as all, as far as my extensive investigations reveal.
It is also a custom so petty that it's questionable why I'm bothered by it at all. But I am. Granted I'm not routinely concerned about it. On a scale of 1-10 of Great Quaker Issues, this rates probably a 2-3, barely beating out the eternal Rug Debate (bare hardwood floors or tasteful area rugs in the meeting house?) and ranking far, far under things like NEYM's relationship to FUM (I am SO not going there today). But occasionally the Name Tag Affair gets to me- like today.
The point of a name tag, of course, is to be friendly towards outsiders, to help everyone get to know each other, and to promote a sense of community. I'm afraid that for me, it doesn't really do any of the above.
I want people to have to ask me my name. I want that initial interaction. If I've forgotten a name that I should know, I want to be humble enough to ask! Conversely, if someone has forgotten my name, I want them to come up to me and ask (or at least ask the person on the bench next to them). More community is formed from these simple social niceties than is ever created by wearing tags.
I don't want the artificial familiarity that name tags create. I don't want someone to come up and call me by name when we have not met- I find this very uncomfortable. I want to be approached and asked for my name. Names, I believe, are a gift, always to be politely asked for and graciously given (or not given, depending on the circumstance!) . Name tags, I feel, make it too easy for us to pretend to know each other.
A practice intended to make visitors feel welcome does, I feel, just the opposite. If I walk into a room and everyone is wearing name tags but me, I feel like I am intruding upon a strange fraternity. It's almost more awkward when I, the visitor to this group, am asked to make one myself. More than once, in fact, I have been approached by a friendly greeter who skips right over introducing herself and asking my name- in favor of asking me to make a name tag! How backwards is that?
In a true community, everyone knows everyone else (more or less) by name. This much is true. But it doesn't make our Quaker meetings any better of a community by faking it! I've noticed that more traditional denominations- the Baptists, the Catholics, the Seventh Day Adventists- would never dream of asking all their congregates to wear name tags. And yet, their sense of community does not seem in suffer. And visitors certainly don't hesitate to come- aren't the Baptists one of the fastest-growing denominations in America?
Perhaps, instead of wearing name tags, we could make a greater effort to reach out to one another. Perhaps, instead of huddling with our particular friends after Meeting (and I'm guilty of this one, too!) we could approach someone we don't know as well. I'd like to see more fellowship in my Meeting, absolutely. In fact, I think that a lack of fellowship a 10/10 on the scale of Great Quaker Issues. I'm just not sure if we're going about it in the right ways (and something tells me that NEYM cutting itself off from FUM isn't the right way to go about it, either . . . but, wait! Not going there!).