1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Name

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NAME (O. Eng. nama; cognate forms in Teutonic languages are Dutch naam, Ger. Name, &c., but the word is common to all Indo-European languages; cf. Gr. ὄνομα, Lat. nomen, Sans. nāman, &c.), the distinguishing appellation by which a person, place, thing or class of persons or things is known.

Local Names.—The study of names and of their survival in civilization enables us in some cases to ascertain what peoples inhabited districts now tenanted by races of far different speech. Thus the names of mountains and rivers in many parts of England are Celtic—for example, to take familiar instances, Usk, Esk and Avon. There are also local names (such as Mona, Monmouth, Mynwy and others) which seem to be relics of tribes even older than the Celtic stocks, and “vestiges of non-Aryan people, whom the Celts found in possession both on the Continent and in the British Isles.”[1] The later English name is sometimes the mere translation, perhaps unconscious, of the earlier Celtic appellation, often added to the more ancient word. Penpole Point in Somerset is an obvious example of this redoubling of names. The pre-Aryan place-names of the Aegean are much discussed by philologists. Such a name as Corinthos, with all other words in nthos, as hyacinthos, is thought to be pre-Hellenic. The river-names Gade, Ver, Test and many other monosyllabic river-names in the home counties, appear to be neither English nor Celtic, but have been neglected, being known to few but anglers and rustics. As to the meaning and nature of ancient local names, they are as a rule purely descriptive. A river is called by some word which merely signifies “the water”; a hill has a name which means no more than “the point,” “the peak,” “the castle.” Celtic names are often of a more romantic tone, as Ardnamurchan, “the promontory by the great ocean,” an admirable description of the bold and steep headland which breasts the wash of the Atlantic. As a general rule the surviving Celtic names, chiefly in Ireland. Wales and Scotland, all contain some wide meaning of poetic appropriateness. The English names, on the other hand, commonly state some very simple fact, and very frequently do no more than denote property, such and such a town or hamlet, “ton” or “ham,” is the property of the Billings, Uffings, Tootings, or whoever the early English settlers in the district may have been. The same attachment to the idea of property is exhibited in even the local names of petty fields in English parishes. Occasionally one finds a bit of half-humorous description, as when a sour, starved and weedy plot is named “starvacre”; but more usually fields are known as “Thompson's great field,” “Smith's small field,” “the fouracre,” or the like. The name of some farmer or peasant owner or squatter of ancient date survives for centuries, attached to what was once his property. Thus the science of local names has a double historical value. The names indicate the various races (Celtic, Roman and English in Great Britain) who have set in the form of names the seal of their possession on the soil. Again, the meanings of the names illustrate the characters of the various races. The Romans have left names connected with camps (castra, chesters) and military roads; the English have used simple descriptions of the baldest kind, or have exhibited their attachment to the idea of property; the Celtic names (like those which the red men have left in America, or the blacks in Australia) are musical with poetic fancy, and filled with interest in the aspects and the sentiment of nature. The British race carries with it the ancient names of an older people into every continent, and titles perhaps originally given to places in the British Isles by men who had not yet learned to polish their weapons of flint may now be found in Australia, America, Africa and the islands of the farthest seas. Local names were originally imposed in a handy local manner. The settler or the group of cave-men styled the neighbouring river “the water,” the neighbouring hill “the peak,” and these terms often still survive in relics of tongues which can only be construed by the learned.

Personal Names.—The history of personal names is longer and more complex, but proceeds from beginnings almost as simple. But in personal names the complexity of human character, and the gradual processes of tangling and disentangling the threads of varied human interest, soon come in, and personal names are not imposed once and for all. Each man in very early societies may have many names, in different characters and at different periods of his life. The oldest personal names which we need examine here are those which indicate, not an individual, but a group, held together by the conscious sense or less conscious sentiment of kindred, or banded together for reasons of convenience. An examination of customs prevalent among the most widely separated races of Asia, Africa, Australia and America proves that groups conceiving themselves to be originally of the same kin are generally styled by the name of some animal or other object (animate or inanimate) from which they claim descent. This object is known as the “totem” (see Totemism). The groups of supposed kin, however widely scattered in local distribution, are known as wolves, bears, turtles, suns, moons, cockatoos, reeds and what not, according as each group claims descent from this or that stock, and sometimes wears a mark representing this or that animal, plant or natural object. Unmistakable traces of the same habit of naming exist among Semitic and Teutonic races, and even among Greeks and Romans. The names chosen are commonly those of objects which can be easily drawn in a rude yet recognizable way, and easily expressed in the language of gesture. In addition to the totem names (which indicate, in each example, supposed blood-kindred), local aggregates of men received local names. We hear of the “hill-men,” “the cave-men,” “the bush-men,” “the coast-men,” the “men of the plain,” precisely as in the old Attic divisions of Aktaioi, Pediaioi and so forth. When a tribe comes to recognize its own unity, as a rule it calls itself by some term meaning simply “the men,” all other tribes being regarded as barbarous or inferior. Probably other neighbouring tribes also call themselves “the men” in another dialect or language, while the people in the neighbourhood are known by an opprobrious epithet, as Rakshasas among the early Aryan dwellers in India, or Eskimo (raw-eaters) in the far north of the American continent. Tribal names in Australia are often taken from the tribal term for “yes” or “no”; cf. Languedoc.

Leaving social for personal names, we find that, among most uncivilized races, a name (derived from some incident or natural object) is given at the time of birth by the parents of each new-born infant. Occasionally the name is imposed before the child is born, and the proud parents call themselves father and mother of such an one before the expected infant sees the light. In most cases the name (the earliest name) denotes some phenomenon of nature; thus Dobrizhofer met in the forests a young man styled “Gold flower of day,” that is, “Dawn,” his father having been named “Sun.” Similar names are commonly given by the natives of Australia, while no names are more common among North-American Indians than those derived from sun, moon, cloud and wind.

The names of savage persons are not permanent. The name first given is ordinarily changed (at the ceremony answering to confirmation in the church) for some more appropriate and descriptive nickname, and that, again, is apt to be superseded by various “honour-giving names” derived from various exploits. The common superstition against being “named” has probably produced the custom by which each individual has a secret name and is addressed, when possible, by some wide term of kinship—“brother,” “father” and the like. The bad luck which in Zulu customs as in Vedic myths attends the utterance of the real name is evaded by this system of addresses. Could we get a savage—an Iroquois, for example—to explain his titles, we would find that he is, say, “Morning Cloud” (by birth-name), “Hungry Wolf” (by confirmation name), “He that raises the white fellow’s scalp” (by honour-giving name), of the Crane totem (by kinship and hereditary name, as understood by ourselves). When society grows so permanent that male kinship and paternity are recognized, the custom of patronymics is introduced. The totem name gives place to a gentile name, itself probably a patronymic in form; or, as in Greece, the gentile name gives place to a local name, derived from the deme. Thus a Roman is called Caius; Julius is his gentile name (of the Julian clan); Caesar is a kind of hereditary nickname. A Greek is Thucydides (the name usually derived from the grandfather), the son of Olorus, of the deme of Halimusia.

This system of names answered the purposes of Greek and Roman civilization. In Europe, among the Teutonic races, the stock-names (conceivably totemistic in origin) survive in English local names, which speak of the “ton” or “ham” of the Billings or Tootings. An examination of these names, as collected in Kemble’s Anglo-Saxons, proves that they were frequently derived from animals and plants. Such English names as “Noble Wolf” (Ethelwulf), “Wolf of War” and so forth, certainly testify to a somewhat primitive and fierce stage of society. Then came more vulgar nicknames and personal descriptions, as “Long,” “Brown,” “White” and so forth. Other names are directly derived from the occupation or craft (Smith, Fowler, Sadler) of the man to whom they were given, and yet other names were derived from places. The noble and landowner was called “of” such and such a place (the German von and French de), while the humbler man was called not “of” but “at” such a place, as in the name “Attewell,” or merely by the local name without the particle. The “de” might also indicate merely the place of a person’s birth or residence; it was not a proof of noblesse. If we add to these names patronymics formed by the addition of “son,” and terms derived from Biblical characters (the latter adopted after the Reformation as a reaction against the names of saints in the calendar), we have almost exhausted the sources of modern English and European names. A continual development of custom can be traced, and the analysis of any man’s family and Christian names will lead us beyond history into the manners of races devoid of literary records.  (A. L.) 

Greek Names.—The Greeks had only one, and no family, name; hence the name of a child was left to the discretion of the parents. The eldest son generally took the name of his paternal grandfather, girls that of their grandmother. Genuine patronymics (Phocion, son of Phocus), analogous compounds (Theophrastus, son of Theodorus), or names of similar meaning (Philumenus, son of Eros) also occur. Athenaeus divides names generally into (1) θεοφόρα, chiefly derivatives or compounds of the names of gods (Demetrius, Apollonius, Theodorus, Diodotus, Heraclitus, Diogenes); (2) ἄθεα, simple or variously compounded names, especially such as were of good omen for a son’s future career (Aristides, Pericles, Sophocles, Alexander), although such hopes were frequently belied by the results. Instances of a subsequent change of name are not uncommon; thus, Plato and Theophrastus were originally Aristocles and Tyrtamus.

To obviate the ambiguity and confusion arising from the use of a single name, various expedients were adopted, the commonest being to add the father’s name—Δημοσθένης Δημοσθένους, Ἀλκιβιάδης ὁ Κλεινίου. Sometimes the birthplace was added—Ἡρόδοτος Ἀλικαρνασσεύς, Θουκυδίδης ὁ Ἀθηναῖος, and sometimes the name of the deme (see Cleisthenes), e.g. Δημοσθένης Παιανεύς. Nicknames denoting mental or bodily defects or striking peculiarities (e.g. colour of hair) were also favourite methods of discrimination (e.g. Ξανθός, yellow).

Roman Names.—Towards the end of the republic free-born Romans were distinguished by three names and two (or even four) secondary indications. In an inscription the name of Cicero is given in the following form: M. Tullius M.f. M.n. M.pr. Cor(nelia tribu) Cicero. M (=Marcus) is the praenomen; Tullius, the nomen, the gentile or family name; Cicero, the cognomen. This order, always preserved, is the correct one. M.f. (=Marci filius), M.n. (=Marci nepos), M.pr. (=Marci pronepos), Cor(nelia tribu) are only used in formal description.

Praenomen (corresponding to the modern Christian name).—Varro gives a list of 32 praenomina, of which 14 had fallen out of use in Sulla’s time, the remaining 18 being confined to patrician families. Some of these appear to have been appropriated by particular families, e.g. Appius by the Claudii, Mamercus by the Aemilii. In the case of plebeian families there was greater latitude and a larger variety of names, but those which became ennobled followed the patrician usage. After the time of Sulla some of the old praenomina were revived, unless they are rather to be regarded as cognomina, which in some families displaced the praenomen proper, as in the case of a certain Africanus Aemilius Regulus.

The nomen (gentile, gentilicium) belonged to all the individual members of the gens and those in any way connected with it (wives, clients, freedmen). In patrician gentes the nomina nearly all ended in -ius (-aeus, -eius, -eus), and are perhaps a sort of patronymic (Iulius from Iulus). In some cases the name indicates the place of origin (Norbanus, Acerranus); -acus (Divitiacus) is peculiar to Gallic, -na (Caecina, Perperna) to Etruscan, -enus (Arulenus) to Umbrian names. Verres as a gentile name stands by itself; perhaps it was originally a cognomen.

The cognomen (“surname”) was the name given to a Roman citizen as a member of a familia or branch of the gens, whereby the family was distinguished from other families belonging to the same gens. Cognomina were either of local origin (Calatinus, Sabinus); or denoted physical peculiarities or moral characteristics (Crassus, Longus, Lentulus, Lepidus, Calvus, Naso); or they were really praenomina (Cossus, Agrippa) or derivatives from praenomina or cognomina (Sextinus, Corvinus, Laevinus). The tria nomina (“three names”) in the well-known passage of Juvenal (v. 127) was probably at that time a mark of ingenuitas rather than of nobilitas.

In addition to these three regular names, many Romans had a fourth, cognomen secundum (agnomen was an introduction of the grammarians of the 4th century). These “second surnames” were chiefly bestowed in recognition of great achievements—Asiaticus, Africanus, Creticus, or were part of the terminology in cases of adoption.

Persons adopted took all the three names of their adoptive father, but at the same time, to keep his origin in mind, they added a second cognomen, a derivative in -anus or -inus from his old gentile name; thus, Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, son of Lucius Aemilius Paullus, adopted by Publius Cornelius Scipio. After the time of Sulla, the derivative was no longer used, one of the old names being substituted without change—Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus. Under the empire no fixed rule was observed, the most remarkable thing being the very large number of names borne by one person (as many as 36 occur on an inscription). Especially in the army and amongst the lower orders, nicknames (signa, vocabula) are of frequent occurrence. Well-known examples are: Caligula; cedo alteram (“another stick, please!”), given to a centurion of flogging propensities; manus ad ferrum (“hand on sword,”) of Aurelian when tribune.

Women originally took the name of the head of the family—Caecilia (filia) Metelli, Metella Crassi (uxor). Later, f. (=filia) was added after the name of a daughter. Towards the end of the republic women are denoted by their gentile name alone, while under the empire they always have two—the nomen and cognomen of the father (Aemilia Lepida, daughter of Lucius Aemilius Lepidus Paullus), or the nomen of both father and mother (Valeria Attia, daughter of Attius Atticus and Valeria Sextina).

Slaves originally had no name, but simply took their master’s praenomen in the genitive followed by -por (=puer): Marcipor, Publipor, Quintipor. Later, when the number of slaves was largely increased, by way of distinction names similar to those common in Greece (national, physical or moral qualities) or simply foreign names were given them. The word puer was subsequently replaced by servus and the form of the name ran: Aphrodisius Ploti Gai servus; under the empire, Eleutherus C. Julii Florentini (the natural order being preserved in the master’s name). When a slave exchanged one master for another, he adopted the name of his old master in an adjectival form in -anus. Cissus Caesaris (servus) Maecenatianus (formerly a slave of Maecenas). Freedmen used their own name as a cognomen and took the nomen of him who gave them their freedom and any praenomen they pleased: L. Livius Andronicus, freedman of M. Livius Salinator. In the time of Caesar, the freedman took the praenomen of the patronus and the gentile name of one of the friends of the latter; thus, Cicero calls his slave Dionysius M. Pomponius Dionysius as a token of friendship for T. Pomponius Atticus.  (J. H. F.) 

Law.—The Christian name, i.e. the name given to a person on admission to baptism into the Christian church, dates back to the early history of the Church. It has been said that the practice of giving a name on baptism was possibly imitated from the Jewish custom of giving a personal name at circumcision. In England individuals were for long distinguished by Christian names only, and the surname (see below) or family name is still totally ignored by the Church. As population increased and intercourse became general, it became necessary to employ some further name by which one man might be known from another, and in process of time the use of surnames became universal, the only exceptions in England being the members of the royal family, who sign by their baptismal names only.

Where the ecclesiastical law does not come into conflict with the common law or has not been changed by it, it still prevails, and therefore it may be said that the name given at baptism may be regarded as practically unalterable. But that a baptismal name is not altogether unalterable has been a matter of contention. A constitution of Archbishop Peckham (ob. 1292) directs that “ministers shall take care not to permit wanton names to be given to children baptized, and if otherwise it be done, the same shall be changed by the bishop at confirmation.” And before the Reformation the Office for Confirmation must have contemplated the possibility of such a change, as the bishop is directed therein to ask the child’s name before anointing him with the chrism, and afterwards, naming him, to sign him with the cross. But in the second and subsequent Prayer-books all mention of the name in the Office for Confirmation is omitted. Lord Coke was of opinion that such a change was permissible and gives examples (1 Inst. p. 3), but Dr Burn (Ecc. Law, i. 80) held a contrary opinion. Phillimore, however, gives several instances when such a change was made, one, in the diocese of Liverpool, on the 11th of June 1886 (see Phillimore, Ecc. Law, i. 517, 518; and also Notes and Queries, 4th ser. vol. vi. p. 17, 7th ser. vol. ii. p. 17). In the case of those who have not been baptized, but have a name (other than a surname) given them by their parents, such a name acquires force only by repute. The Registration of Births Act, which requires the registration of every birth, makes provision for the insertion of a name, but such provision is purely permissive, and the only object of entering a name on the register is to have an authoritative record of the commencement of repute.

A clergyman of the Church of England is compelled to perform the ceremony of baptism when required by a parishioner, and to give whatever name or names the godparents select, but although the rubrics do not expressly say so, he can object to any name on religious or moral grounds.

The freedom enjoyed in England and the United States as to the kind of Christian name which may be given to a child is somewhat limited in France and Germany. In France, by a decree of the 11 Germinal, an XI., the only names permitted to be recorded in the civil register as Christian names (prénoms) of children were those of saints in the calendar and the names of personages known in ancient history. Even at the present day an official list is issued (revised from time to time) containing a selection of forenames, and no name of a child will be registered unless it occurs in this list. A limitation more or less similar prevails in Germany and other European countries.

As regards the surname (Fr. surnom, name in addition), custom has universally decreed that a man shall be known by the name of his father. But in England and the United States, at least, this custom is not legally binding; there is no law preventing man from taking whatever name he has a fancy for, nor are there any particular formalities required to be observed on adopting a fresh surname; but, on the other hand, if a man has been known for a considerable time by the name of his father, or by a name of repute, and he changes it for another, he cannot compel others to address him or designate him by the new one. Neither does the English law recognize the absolute right of any person in any particular name to the extent of preventing another person from assuming it (Du Boulay v. Du Boulay, 1869, L.R. 2 P.C. 430). If, however, a person adopts a new name and wishes to have it publicly notified and recognized in official circles, the method of procedure usually adopted is that by royal licence. This is by petition, prepared and presented through the Heralds' Office. If granted, the royal licence is given under the sign manual and privy seal of the sovereign, countersigned by the home secretary. In wills and settlements a clause is often inserted whereby a testator or settler imposes upon the takers of the estate an obligation to assume his name and bear his arms. The stamp duty payable for a royal licence in this case is fifty pounds, but if the application is merely voluntary the stamp duty is ten pounds. Where there is a more formal adoption of a surname, it is usual, for purposes of publicity and evidence, to advertise the change of name in the newspapers and to execute a deed poll setting out the change, and enrol the same in the central office of the Supreme Court.

Both in France and Germany official authorization must be obtained for any change of name. By the German Code 1900 (s. 12) if the right to a new name is disputed by another or his interest is injured thereby, the person entitled can compel the abandonment of the new name.

In England, a wife on marriage adopts the surname of her husband, disregarding entirely her maiden surname; in Scotland the practice usually is for the wife to retain her maiden name for all legal purposes, adding the name of her husband as an alias. On remarriage the rule is for the wife to adopt the name of the new husband, but an exception to this is tacitly recognized in the case of a title acquired by marriage when the holder remarries a commoner. This exception was very fully discussed in Cowley v. Cowley, 1901, A.C. 450.

Peers of the United Kingdom when signing their names use only their surnames or peerage designations. It is merely a privileged custom, which does not go back further than the Stuart period. Peeresses sign by their Christian names or initials followed by their peerage designation. Bishops sign by their initials followed by the name of the see. In Scotland it is very usual for landowners to affix to their names the designation of their lands, and this was expressly sanctioned by an act of 1672.

See Ency. Eng. Law, tits. “Christian Name,” “Surname”; W. P. W. Phillimore, Law and Practice of Change of Name; Fox-Davies and Carlyon-Britton, Law concerning Names and Changes of Name. (T. A. I.) 

  1. Elton, Origins of English History, p. 165; Rhys, Lectures on Celtic Philology, pp. 181, 182.