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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

What deserves a name?

During our last hangout about Naming, the question came up: how do we decide what deserves a name? So we began by asking what kinds of things we put names on. People get them; places get them. Animals can get them. Sometimes, things get them. Quite a number of people name their cars; I knew a fellow once who named his dishwasher "The General" because it was so loud.

Paul suggested that the human tendency to anthropomorphize, or to attribute human characteristics like personality to animals and things.

Kat pointed out that she grew up with an animistic culture in which everything has personality, but she doesn't name things (that's not a necessary extension of a worldview that attributes personality to things). She lived on a boat, and boats have names, but other things did not.

We speculated that boats have names because when you call the Coast Guard or a bridge, you need to have a way of identifying yourself, so you identify the boat.

Paul pointed out that some addresses in England consist of the person's name, the name of the house, the name of the town, and what it's adjacent to. Names can be given to castles, mansions, and rich people's homes.

Swords can be given names, but they aren't always. Kat said that in Japan, certain swords of note were given names.

Would you name your kitchen knives? Which one or ones? Would you name only your sharp knives or your butter knives as well?

Inns will sometimes name the individual rooms they contain, but this is usually something that happens in places with very few rooms, or with themed rooms.

Do you name the rooms in your home? What do you call them? Does everyone who lives there agree what they are called?

It's natural to name pets, but what about computers? You may be asked to name your hard drive. You may need to track the name of the server that you visit when you play video games. You might want to give a computer a name that helps you track its function in a larger system.

Do we name food animals? Why or why not?

Hurricanes get named when they surpass a particular size and strength.

Some companies even name their marketing programs.

In a hospital, it might be helpful to think of names that would help patients understand a place's role in the larger system; another kind of name might confuse them.

We often label things when we feel they must be distinguished from one another.

Roman names, the nomen and the cognomen, would indicate who you were in the family structure. Many famous Romans went by their nicknames, like Cicero, whose nickname means chickpea.

Consider how you might name things in your secondary world to help people keep track of where they belong in relation to one another.

Names very often indicate social affiliation. Sometimes they are immutable, as a name that stands for a unique individual throughout their lifetime. Sometimes they change over the course of one's life, or they change over time.

People in our world enjoy acronyms that are pronounceable as names.

Stadium names used to be idiosyncratic, and now they have become corporate. That suggests a lot about the nature of our society.

Dormitories are often named so they can be distinguished. They might be named for famous people.

When you look at the phenomenon of places or monuments being named for people who have done great things, and then you compare that with the phenomenon of corporate name buying, it suggests something about how fame can or cannot be bought.

A complex naming strategy would require some investment in teaching readers, but it could be very helpful.

High elevation points might get a name. If a place is generally quite flat, a low hill might be named; but in a mountain range, only a really high or uniquely-shaped mountain would get a name.

What size does a community have to be before it gets a name? Does the community have to live in a permanent location, or can it be mobile? Do neighborhoods get names? What about unincorporated areas?

Sometimes the way you use names can reveal a lot about social structure, and also history.

Naming cars appears to be a relatively new phenomenon, but boats have had names since thousands of years ago.

I asked how the question of naming might reflect on the issue of capitalizing things, like The City, the South Bay, the East Bay, etc. When we capitalize, it gives a name-like quality to the thing being described. Che suggested that magical librarians might need to be called something different if they were part of a magical librarian's guild rather than simply a magical librarian.

There are rules for the use of mother vs. Mother; mother is a noun while Mother is a name. Sometimes it's less clear whether to use capitals on something like Lady.

Legislative bills for the government often get names or acronyms. Military operations get names; we were trying to think whether Desert Storm was the first one or one of the first ones named, but we couldn't be sure because we don't have military experience. It may simply be that those names existed but weren't widely known.

When you want people to talk about something, it helps to give it a name. Similarly, if you don't want people to talk about something, don't give it a name.

Thank you to everyone who attended this discussion. I really enjoyed it! Dive into Worldbuilding meets again on Tuesday, July 2, 2019 at 4pm Pacific. I hope to see you there!


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