The Name Game

Say it out loud. Right now, at your computer. Even if you’re at work, you can just whisper it: “vagina.”

Did you stumble? Or did you not even do it?


It’s a word that gives males and females alike great pause. Writing it is one thing, but saying it is another. But really, we need to say it, even if we only say it to ourselves. And here’s why.

(I know I like to dreamily waltz back into memories of my women and gender studies classes and make the reader suffer through them, but please, endure another.) On the first day of my introduction to women and gender studies class, the first WGS class I’d ever taken, we were asked to write a list of every word or phrase, we’d ever heard as a euphemism for penis. We got in groups and started writing. We probably could have gone on for the entire class period; alas, we were limited to 15 minutes. We then wrote all of these on the board. Later, we were allotted those same 15 minutes to write as many as we could for vagina. We needed less than five. There weren’t that many. And when we wrote what all of the groups had on the board, there were lots of repeats and frankly, most of them were disgusting and all of them were pretty demeaning.

Sure, ladies can say va-jay-jay, just like the cover of Cosmopolitan or Oprah says, but who are we kidding? It sounds like some gibberish, a childish way to say something less important other than what is really being discussed: a vagina. Admittedly, other than va-jay-jay, ladies are stuck with things like “bearded clam” or things as foul and heteronormative as “cock sheath.” I’m going to put myself out there and say that these terms were not made by people wishing to empower the female form or their sexuality.

But up on the board on that first day of class, the euphemisms for penis were powerful. Disgusting, yet powerful, things like “the one-eyed warrior” and “lap rocket.”

What? Women are stuck with names like va-jay-jay or sea creatures who may not even be sentient, while men get warriors and rockets?

Even if you don’t go for the textbook ideas of female empowerment or the ideas of male dominance over patriarchy, there is something fundamentally wrong by demeaning our bodies with these names. It’s time to get defensive of our vaginas and what our vaginas are called.

Sure this is a pretty cliché call to action, but that doesn’t meant it isn’t worthwhile. Just think this over.

Make up some new names. The politics of naming inherently gives power to the person who is doing the naming. So if you’re uncomfortable with a vagina being called a “cock sheath,” but you’re still uncomfortable saying vagina, you’ve got to come up with your own amazing, powerful name for vaginas, or your own vagina if you have one. And even if you don’t have one, you can still make a name better than what’s already out there.  Make that new name active, make it authoritative, make it something you’re not embarrassed to say out loud, even if you’re only saying it out loud to yourself.

So what name will you pick?

–By Sam Howard

One thought on “The Name Game

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