Proper Names

The Adamic power to name things has gone novaburst in the last 50 odd years since people all over the world started hitting computer keyboards and experiencing popular culture via mass media. Above all, this is true of proper names, those which point to but do not define the intension of objects in the world. Just think of the myriad of file names, product names, user names, passwords, rock groups, website domain names, pseudonyms, names of companies, and nonce names of all kinds across all languages that have streamed through our lives. Names for people are an interesting area for comparison, even though the issue there is using the ‘naming system’ rather than necessarily new inventing names. New media activities have swollen the number of discrete ‘names’ by orders of magnitude, I would imagine, when compared to the previous half century. If you can’t think of a new name, you can even get software to invent brand new names.

Naming new products is always a risky area for the multilingually challenged and there have been plenty of silly stories about products shooting themselves in the foot due to insufficient preparation. The reason is that cognitively speaking, native speakers tend to block out the ‘intensions’ of name words in their language(s), while foreign speakers often perceive the component meanings where they don’t resonate for the native. Just think of ‘bush’ or ‘gold man sax’ or ‘brad pit’ or ‘proctor & gamble’ or ‘thatcher’, ‘potter’ or ‘king’.

If you are wondering whether Japanese names have any such hidden wealth for foreigners, check out this site which attempts to unpack meanings from innocent brand names in a language with a completely different representation system.

Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.


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