Naming Customs

name

name: Personal identifying names are found in every known culture, and they often pass from one language to another. Hence the occurrence of Native American place names throughout the United States and the occurrence among American families of names of various linguistic origins (e.g., Roosevelt, Hoover, La Follette, La Guardia). The use of personal names apparently began at a very early stage in human history, with single names of persons presumably coming into use earlier than double ones; in the Bible double names are mainly confined to those who have common forenames, e.g., Judas Barsabas and Mary Magdalene. Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian names were generally formed of two common words, e.g., Hrothgar (Roger) meaning "fame-spear."

English surnames developed in the late Middle Ages and, apart from patronymics (Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, Harrison), have a variety of origins; they come from places (Lincoln, Garfield, Cleveland), from trades (Tyler, Taylor), from personal traits (Stout, Black), and from the calendar (Noël, May). The Irish Mac, meaning "son," and ua, meaning "grandson," were attached to family and clan names as Mac,Mc, or M' and O' (see O), respectively. The O' was apparently not used in Scotland. The Welsh, in translating their patronymic (ap=son of) settled on English forms ending in s, hence Welsh names such as Davis (from David) and Jones (from John). In Icelandic the surname is patronymic, and it changes from generation to generation. French de, when written separately, like German von, is deemed to mark a noble name.

Although in most European cultures the surname follows the given name, Hungarian names tend to reverse this order, as do names in Chinese, Japanese, and other languages. Spanish practice varies by country; one common usage gives a surname combining those of each parent, e.g., Serrano y Domínguez or Serrano Domínguez, for one whose father was a Serrano and mother a Domínguez. In Russian the middle name consists of the father's forename with a patronymic suffix, e.g., Nikolayevich. In the Roman republic three names were used, the forename (praenomen), of which there were fewer than 20; the gens or tribe name (nomen); and finally the family name (cognomen); e.g., Caius Julius Caesar, or Caius of the Caesar family of the Julian gens. An additional name (agnomen) might be added as a nickname or honor, e.g., Africanus, for victory in Africa, in the case of Scipio. Amharic names are concatenations of the child's given name and the father's given name. Native American names often referred to elements in nature or attributed special traits to the person.

In the Western world a woman traditionally adopted the family name of her husband at the time of her marriage. Since the mid-20th cent. women in the United States have increasingly adopted the practice of retaining their maiden, or parental, surname beyond the time of marriage; other women and some couples have adopted surnames that combine those of each partner.

In many cultures the name is of supernatural significance. Besides animistic commonplaces such as naming a child after a lucky person or a wily animal, there are widespread taboo practices, such as not naming a child after a living relative or changing the name on the death of a namesake or avoiding the name of a family totem. In some cultures the name given the child at birth is temporary and is replaced with another at puberty, or whenever the individual attains a new age grade.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition the name has great significance, especially in the case of divine names; thus Jews did not utter the name of God. The ancient Hebrew ben (son of) was affixed to the father's given name to form a family name, although in some religious practices a child was referred to by a formula that substituted the mother's given name for the father's. Christians have traditionally baptized children with an appropriately Christian name, especially the name of a saint, henceforth the patron; an additional name is taken at confirmation. The Puritans discouraged the use of any but biblical first names. The practice of changing names by court action is commonly adopted in order to afford a clear record.

Bibliography

See L. G. Pine, The Story of Surnames (1965); C. M. Yonge, History of Christian Names (rev. ed. 1966); W. O. Hassal, History Through Surnames (1967); R. D. Alford, Naming and Identity (1988); A. J. Kolatch, The New Name Dictionary (1989); S. J. Kupper, Surnames for Women (1990); G. Payton, The Penguin Dictionary of Proper Names (1991).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Names and Naming Patterns in England, 1538-1700
Scott Smith-Bannister.
Clarendon Press, 1997
The Study of Names: A Guide to the Principles and Topics
Frank Nuessel.
Greenwood Press, 1992
Naming Our Selves
Kissling, Elizabeth Arveda; DeFrancisco, Victoria Leto.
Women and Language, Vol. 16, No. 2, Fall 1993
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Children's Evaluative Stereotypes of Masculine, Feminine, and Androgynous First Names
Erwin, Philip G.
The Psychological Record, Vol. 56, No. 4, Fall 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Double-Surnames and Gender Equality: A Proposition and the Spanish Case
Stodder, James.
Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Vol. 29, No. 3, Autumn 1998
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
American Nicknames: Their Origin and Significance
George Earlie Shankle.
H. W. Wilson, 1955 (2nd edition)
Acts of Naming: The Family Plot in Fiction
Michael Ragussis.
Oxford University Press, 1986
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