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A Dictionary of First Names, by Hanks, Hardcastle, and Hodges (Oxford University Press, 2007)


An informal term for a word or phrase that designates a person, place, or thing.

A noun that names any one of the same kind or class (for example, queen, hamburger, or town) is called a common name. A noun that names a particular member of a class (Elizabeth II, Big Mac, Twin Peaks) is called a proper name. Proper names are usually written with initial capital letters.

Onomastics is the study of proper names, especially the names of people (anthroponyms) and places (toponyms).

See also:


From the Greek, "name"

Examples and Observations:

  • Jack: I haven't met your boyfriend.
    Liz Lemon: His name's Floyd.
    Jack: That's unfortunate.
    (Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey in "Corporate Crush." 30 Rock, 2007)

  • The Sounds of Names
    "It's interesting how some names sound good and some sound bad. Names with soft consonants such as [m], [n], and [l] tend to sound nicer than names with hard consonants such as [k] and [g]. Imagine we're approaching a planet, where two alien races live. One of the races is called the Lamonians. The other is called the Grataks. Which sounds like the friendlier race? Most people opt for the Lamonians, because the name sounds friendlier. Grataks sound nasty."
    (David Crystal, A Little Book of Language. Yale Univ. Press, 2010)

  • English Place Names
    "Who could resist the lure of the extraordinary names of England's villages? High Easter, New Delight, Kingston Bagpuize, Sleeping Green, Tiptoe, Nether Wallop, Nymphsfield, Christmas Common, Samlesbury Bottoms, Thyme Intrinseca, Huish Champflower, Buckland-tout-Saints, Wyre Piddle, Martin Husingtree, Norton-Juxta-Twycross and so on, a gazeteer of dreams."
    (Jeremy Paxman, The English: A Portrait of a People. Overlook, 2000)

  • American Names
    "I have fallen in love with American names,
    The sharp names that never get fat,
    The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims,
    The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,
    Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat. . . ."
    (Stephen Vincent Benét, "American Names," 1927)

  • Common Words and Proper Names
    "There is no sharp dividing line between common words and proper names. They feed off each other. Many medieval surnames began as common nouns, especially those associated with occupations:
    Archer, Baker, Barber, Brewer, Butcher, Carpenter, Cook, Farmer, Fisher, Goldsmith, Mason, Miller, Parson, Shepherd, Smith, Taylor, Thatcher, Weaver
    Some are less obvious today. Trinder? A wheelmaker. Fletcher? An arrow-maker. Lorimer? A spur-maker. . . .

    "Everyday words can be turned into a place name as circumstances require. The exploration routes of the world are full of such names as Cape Catastrophe, Skull Creek, and Mount Pleasant, plus hopeful names like Concord, Fame, and Niceville. The same trend affects streets, parks, promenades, quaysides, markets, and all the other places where we live."
    (David Crystal, Words, Words, Words. Oxford Univ. Press, 2006)

  • Name Magic
    "The mythical view of language which everywhere precedes the philosophical view of it is always characterized by this indifference of word and thing. Here the essence of everything is contained in its name. Magical powers attach directly to the word. He who gains possession of the name and knows how to make use of it, has gained power over the object itself; he has made it his own with all its energies. All word magic and name magic is based on the assumption that the world of things and the world of names form a single undifferentiated chain of causality and hence a single reality."
    (Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms: Language. Yale Univ. Press, 1953)

  • Repetition of First Names
    "The effect was a little like that produced by people who in conversation constantly use the first name of the person they are speaking: you can go years without noticing this but once you do it is hard not to become distracted by it--hard, in fact, not to feel that it is specifically intended to drive you mad."
    (John Lanchester, Capital. W.W. Norton, 2012)

  • Name Taboos
    "Taboos on using personal names are reported in a wide variety of cultures. The details vary from language to language, but it is common for people to be reluctant to reveal their own real names. In many small-scale societies names are not much used. Instead, people are often addressed or referred to by kin terms such as 'son' or 'father's sister.' In some societies people have two names, a 'real' name, which they keep secret, and an extra name or nickname which is disclosed to outsiders. In other societies people will turn to a third party to announce their name when someone asks, because there is a taboo on uttering one's own name (Frazer 1911b: 244-6)."
    (Barry J. Blake, Secret Language. Oxford Univ. Press, 2010)

Pronunciation: NAM
Also Known As: proper name
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