I have long been intrigued by names and naming practices. Believe it or not, there’s a whole academic sub-field of linguistics devoted to the study of names and naming practices — it’s called onomastics. Here in the United States, we have the American Name Society:
The American Name Society was founded in 1951 to promote onomastics, the study of names and naming practices, both in the United States and abroad. It is a non-profit organization that seeks to find out what really is in a name, and to investigate cultural insights, settlement history, and linguistic characteristics revealed in names.
The American Name Society hosts Names: A Journal of Onomastics. Their own list of some of their scholarly articles:
- “Russian Given Names: Their Pronunciation, Meaning, and Frequency.” Edwin D. Lawson and Natan Nevo.
- “Arapaho Placenames in Colorado: Indigenous Mapping, White Remaking.” Andrew Cowell. March 2004.
- “Affirmative Naming in No Name.” Amy Leal. March 2004.
- “On the Birthday and Etymology of the Placename Missouri.” Michael McCafferty. June 2003.
- “Naming with Lewis and Clark.” Thomas J. Gasque. March 2003.
- “Distribution of Forenames, Surnames, and Forename-Surname Pairs in Canada.” D. K. Tucker. June 2002.
- “Welsh Bynames on the Allegheny.” W.R. Davis. September 2001.
- “Distribution of Forenames, Surnames, and Forename-Surname Pairs in the United States,” D. K. Tucker, June 2001.
- “The Sociolinguistics of the ‘S-Word’: Squaw in American Placenames,” William Bright, September/December 2000.
- “From French to English: Some Observations on Patterns of Onomastic Changes in North America.” André Lapierre. Sept./Dec. 2000.
- “On the Meaning of Personal Names: A View from Cognitive Psychology.” Tim Brennen. June 2000.
- “Trends in Women’s Marital Name Choices: 1966-1996.” Laurie K. Scheuble, Katherine Klingemann and David R. Johnson. June 2000.
- “Comment vous appelez-vous?: Why the French Change Their Names.” James E. Jacob and Pierre L. Horn. March 1998.
- “Impressions Created by Given Names.” Albert Mehrabian. March 1997.
- “Naming Practices in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.” Vivian de Klerk and Barbara Bosch. September 1996.
- “Saints and Sites: The Interrelationship between Church Dedications and Placenames in England.” Adrian Room. December 1992.
- “Anglicized Native American Placenames in Oregon: Their Number and Distribution.” Lewis L. McArthur. December 1996.
- “Scottish Place Names as Evidence for Language Change.” W.F.H. Nicolaisen. December 1993.
One of the rites of passage for a transgendered person comes in choosing a new name that matches one’s gender identity. Onomastics may sound dry and boring, but in fact, it is a wonderland for the curious mind. There are forenames and surnames; there are place names (town, states, countries, continents); there are topographical names (mountains, rivers, canyons, oceans); there are product and business names (Kleenex, Xerox, Kodak, Wal-Mart, Tesco, Apple); there are legal names and nicknames; and there are many other types of names (spiritual, mystical, uncouth epithets, etc).
I’ve always liked the story of Ulysses S. Grant (see here, emphasis mine):
Notes for Ulysses S. Grant:
original name HIRAM ULYSSES GRANT Grant, Ulysses S.: Ulysses S. Grant.U.S. general, commander of the Union armies during the late years (1864-65) of the American Civil War, and 18th president of the United States (1869-77).
Grant was the son of Jesse Root Grant, a tanner, and Hannah Simpson, and he grew up in Georgetown, Ohio. Detesting the work around the family tannery, Ulysses instead performed his share of chores on farmland owned by his father and developed considerable skill in handling horses. In 1839 Jesse secured for Ulysses an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and pressured him to attend. Although he had no interest in military life, Ulysses accepted the appointment, realizing that the alternative was no further education. Grant decided to reverse his given names and enroll at the academy as Ulysses Hiram (probably to avoid having the acronym HUG embroidered on his clothing); however, his congressional appointment was erroneously made in the name Ulysses S. Grant, the name he eventually accepted, maintaining that the middle initial stood for nothing. He came to be known as U.S. Grant–Uncle Sam Grant–and his classmates called him Sam. Standing only a little over five-feet tall when he entered the academy, he grew more than six inches in the next four years. Most observers thought his slouching gait and sloppiness in dress did not conform with usual soldierly bearing.
Can you imagine being the general who won the Civil War (all 5 feet of him!) and then becoming president of the United States, and having to sign your initials as HUG???
When I was doing my armchair exploration of onomastics, I discovered a scientific research project that showed the link between one’s initials and one’s longevity. I’m too lazy to find it, but Google around and you’ll see I’m correct — it’s a scientific fact. If you happen to be given a name with initials like BAD or DUM or PS or such, you’ll likely die sooner than someone whose initials are LUV or PIE or something else nice. Neutral initials have no affect on longevity. Ulysses might ought to have stuck with HUG?
Anyway, names are a persistent problem for transgendered people, depending on where they live. In many ways, the United Kingdom is light years ahead of the United States, but it seems that England has taken a huge step backwards. Now this is going to be even problematic, not only for transgendered people, but also for bigamists.
So the song for today is….
Terms and Conditions of Use
All content provided on this DogDharma blog is for informational and entertainment purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. Views are an expression of the blog owner’s opinion only.
Once again, no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site is claimed.
The owner of DogDharma will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.