Individuation of Proper Names
Yesterday, during Hanoch‘s talk at ELTE, Zsófia Zvolensky brought up a distinction between ways of individuating proper names, that is, individuating them according to the semantic type vs. the orthographic type. This reminded me of an argument I had with Kati during the discussion seminar, two years ago (we were reading Naming and Necessity). What follows are some random thoughts on the issue. (Kati and Zsófia supported semantic typing, Hanoch was neutral, I support orthographic typing).
According to the first criterion, the semantic value (that is, the bearer) individuates types of proper names. This means that „Aristotle”, „Aristotel” and ” Ἀριστοτέλης” belong to the same type, since they have the same bearer, that is, Aristotle (by any other name :p), and it’s quite useful for historical-causal theories of names (since it unifies communication chains at root). But this also means that my name, „Ştefan”, is not the same name as Ştefan B.’s, or Ştefan C.’s (they’re old friends of mine), and all other Ştefans’ out there, which is kind of a big inflation. And it also means that the lists of suggested names for babies available on the internet are useless (since they are proper names, they must be proper names of some people, and you cannot take other people’s names) and completely misguided when giving frequencies for those names.
The second criterion says that names are individuated with respect to their membership in classes of sequences of signs. This means that there is a class, that of the type Ş^T^E^F^A^N (where „^” is concatenation), and my name, and Ştefan B.’s and C.’s are the same name, since they belong to the same type. This makes the lists above quite justified, since they suggest name types. What about „Aristotle” cases? My suggestion is something along these lines: explain variety as historical corruptions of the same orthographic type. That is, from the type „A^R^I^S^T^O^T^É^L^Ē^S”, through various historical vagaries (specific to linguistic communities), the final „S” was lost, the „E”s changed quality etc, resulting in the modern varieties. Similarly, me and István have the same name (different corruptions of a biblical name in Greek). (Actually, it all started with Kati’s being appalled by the thought that her name—”Katalin”—is a male name in Romanian; of course it’s not, we have both male and female names of the same type, but in Hungarian, apparently, there is only the female variant).
Of course, my explanation requires that orthographic types be understood more like natural kinds than mathematical classes, but I don’t see any difficulty with that at the moment. Also, as far as I see, both are compatible with some kind of Millian theory (with semantical typing being more friendly to the historical-causal version). Finally, both approaches seem to justify equally the practice of „translating” some names, such as those of historical figures and major European cities, although orthographic typing gets some extra points from the linguists’ current recommendations that names from other languages should not be transliterated.
What do you think of this?