• Question: who invented giving people names ?

    Asked by saffroncumner to Alastair, Emma, Hywel, Keith, Vicki on 15 Jun 2010 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Keith Brain

      Keith Brain answered on 15 Jun 2010:

      I don’t know, but I’m not sure that anyone else does either, because names go back as far as written history does. Indeed, I think it will have to go back as far as spoken language … at least for any languages that allow you to describe someone who is not present. If someone is close by, you can just point at the them – they don’t need a name. But if you try to describe someone who is not present, how could you do it? You could say, “the person that was here yesterday”, but isn’t that also a name – because it is a semantic (eek, technical term) description of them.

      I wonder who invented giving people “surnames”? I know that many surnames are linked to professions (like Baker), or link you to an ancestor (like Johnson), and are very useful when you start to get community with more people in them than there are unique first names. My mother-in-law thinks that I had stupid ancestors with the surname “Brian”, but that they couldn’t spell, so switched the vowels. She also believes that stupidity is hereditary 😉

    • Photo: Hywel Vaughan

      Hywel Vaughan answered on 15 Jun 2010:

      I am not sure that names can be attributed to any one person – my main understanding is that names arose as language developed, a way to be able to distinguish between both items and people.
      Surnames however are particularly interesting. Many years ago, most surnames were based on the name of your father (sorry girls!) or a description. This is why you get names like Stevenson and Richardson – it literally comes from ‘The son of Steven’. This occurs across most languages. If you look at some surnames such as Vaughan (my surname) it has come from a mutation of a welsh word that translated to ‘The smaller’ – a description of the first person to have that surname…

    • Photo: Alastair Sloan

      Alastair Sloan answered on 15 Jun 2010:

      Wow Saffron, that’s a good question.

      As far as I know no one person invented giving people names. Names generally have a meaning and I think the first names were given to describe a persons character or person and to identify individuals. Also alot of British names come from Roman, Greek or other older languages and have been modified over the years. The names we know and use now have been passed on from generation to generation and have been modified, due to spelling mistakes, personal choice, mixing two names together, so over hundreds and thousands of years names get changed little by little to get the names we have today.

      My name has Greek background and means “Defending Men” and the name Adrian comes from the Roman Emperor Hadrian (see the slight difference) on honour of him.

      Saffron is taken from the spice of the same name, the crocus flower where the spice comes from or the colour of the spice. It may have been first used for someone with hair colour similar to that of the flower, or for someone who’s personality was as fragrant as the spice. It originally comes from Arabic.

      Surnames are also modified by being passed down through generations as some were originally linked to what jobs people did (Mason, Baker, Butcher). The study of names has a name – it’s called Onomastics!