Facts About Names

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‘A rose by any other name is just as sweet’. So goes the old adage. The truth of the matter is that a rose by any other name is not a rose. The word rose is the name given to refer to all members of a particular species of flower. The ‘red rose’ refers to all the roses within the sub set of red roses. But if the poet had said Red Rose then the reference would be to a particular individual, and that individual need not be a rose. It could be a person, a place, an animal or a thing.

FACT 1: Names could be common nouns or an appellative. They refer to all members of a class. Thus dog, daisy, chair, desert, mountain, boy, man etc. are names given to a whole class of entities. Individuals within the class can also be identified using appellatives. If a person says he is going to the shop, he is referring to a specific shop. However the shop refers to a particular shop only for the duration of the conversation.

FACT 2: Proper nouns are names that refer to a specific individual member of a class. The proper noun Mt. Everest refers to a particular mountain in the Himalaya. In many languages a proper noun is distinguished from a common noun by the use of capital letters. In English the article is generally not used with a proper noun.

FACT 3: Names are all proper nouns. Some appellatives assume the status of a name and the capital letter is used. These words actually have the properties of common nouns. Words like Indians, the Finance Minister, a Corolla (car), the Hindus, and the Roman Catholic Church are examples.

FACT 4: In most cultures an individual is given a name in infancy. This is usually accompanied by a naming ceremony. This name is referred to as the given name. It is then coupled with a family name, to identify the particular individual.

FACT 5: The order of the names differs in different cultures. The Chinese and the Hungarians put the family name or surname first. So Bill Clinton would be Clinton Bill in Hungary or China.

FACT 6: People are often given second names. These names could be saints names acquired at the confirmation ceremony, or the mothers family name. In Portugal, the name Elsa de Mendonca y Mascarenhas, indicates that Elsa is married to a Mascarenhas and is the daughter of a Mendonca.

FACT 7: The father’s given name (patronymic) is often used in the individual name. M. Yaqub Nazir indicates that Yaqub is son of Nazir. The M preceding the name is associated with religious protection. This name is given by the parents to put the child under the protection of the particular religious figure. A girl called Mary Elizabeth is usually referred to as Elizabeth. Mary refers to the fact that her parents have placed her under the protection of Mother Mary.

FACT 8: In some parts of India the name format follows the pattern of, village or house name, fathers name and lastly the given name. AK Anthony refers to Arakaparambil (house name) Kurien (father’s name) Anthony (given name).

FACT 9: Onomatology is the science that studies names. It is sub divided into the study of personal names, anthroponomastics, and the study of place names, toponomastics. Toponomastics is further subdivided into the study of the names of uninhabited places, water bodies, mountains and the names of things. Each one of these branches has its own specific name.

FACT 10: The origin of names is often lost as languages evolve and cultures overlap. Oxford for example was originally the name of the watering place of oxen.

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