And so the Rectification of Names was a means by which things were either to be called their correct names (that is, the name corresponding to behavior), or people are meant to live up to the name that they have.
Either the people go about calling that government official a thief – or he behaves like a government official should!
This was important for Confucius in the task of governing the state.
Unless this is done, “affairs cannot be carried on to success.”
Again from The Analects:
Zilu [his student] said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you,
in order with you to administer the government.
What will you consider the first thing to be done?”
The Master replied,
“What is necessary is to rectify names.”
“So, indeed!” said Zilu.
“You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?”
The Master said, “How uncultivated are you, You!
A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve.
If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.
If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.
When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish.
When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded.
When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know now to move hand or foot.
Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately,
and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately.
What the superior man requires, is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.”
Confucius, Analects 13.3