Toward a functional theory of names and naming

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Mill's classic distinction among definite descriptions, common names, and proper names differentiates them on logical grounds: definite descriptions and common names refer in virtue of their meaning, but proper names refer by arbitrary connection - they are viewed as having no meaning. Subsequent discussion has shown that proper names display a rich variety of meaning, and more recent discussion has sought to characterize proper names (and other types of singular terms) on functional, as well as logical, grounds: referring crucially to notions like ‘baptismal ceremony’, ‘bearerhood’, ‘causal chain’, ‘speech context’, ‘speaker purpose’, etc. Nevertheless, little has been said to constrain these functional notions by grounding them in empirical analyses of actual names and naming practice. Existing behavioral research and anecdote suggest some constraints, elaborate and specify some previously proposed general types of constraints, and underscore the potential value of an integration of philosophical speculation with psychological and linguistic research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)341-372
Number of pages32
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1983

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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