Thursday, March 8, 2007

What's in a name?

الله is the Arabic word for God. From the Islamic point of view, Allah is the special name of God and is the most precious name because it is not a descriptive name like the other 99 names of Allah (go here or here to see the Arab calligraphy), but the name of God's own presence. It is impossible to alter the word in Arabic (such as create a plural form or change the gender).

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
That's said by Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2), by William Shakespeare. Here, a little explanation of it.
Is it important how we are named? Should parents be allowed to call their children what ever they want? Check name meanings at Behind the name. Or read suggestions about choosing a name for a baby.
I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city,
Whereupon, lo! upsprang the aboriginal name!
Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient;
Here, Walt Whitman is saying that the name Mannahatta (or, Manhattan) is the perfect name for such a city, because it is so descriptive of its true essence. Whitman shows the importance and effect of proper naming.
Shakespeare was talking about an anthroponym (the name of a human being). Witman was talking about a toponym (from Greek words τόπος, place, and oνομα, name). But we also have other words like these:
  • hydronym, a proper name of a body of water
  • ethnonym (from Greek έθνος, tribe and όνομα), the name of an ethnic group
  • pseudonym, an artificial, ficticious name, also known as alias
  • pen name, a pseudonym adopted by an author, also the French nom de plume
And finally, we have:
  • exonyms, which are names for places that are not used within that place by the local inhabitants, or a name for a people or language that is not used by the people or language to which it refers
  • endonyms (or autonyms), the names used by the people or locals themselves
Onomastics (or onomatology, from Greek ὄνομα) is the study of proper names of all kinds and the origins of names.

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