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The Language of Names: What We Call…

The Language of Names: What We Call Ourselves and Why It Matters

by Justin Kaplan

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1333136,355 (3.18)3



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The focus of The Language of Names is far narrower than the rather grandiose title suggests, though a careful reading of the back cover copy (which mentions "contemporary society") would reveal its limitations. There are a lot of interesting questions about names to be explored: that no culture has ever been encountered that doesn't use them (and indeed, there are indications that some species of whales and dolphins use some form of individual identifiers); the development of last names rather than patronymics or ad-hoc identifiers based on occupation or location; the wide variation in the number of names available in different cultures (we all know that most Koreans are named Kim, Park, or Lee, but why?); and other anthropological questions. Unfortunately, this book answers none of those questions.

Instead, it explores a set of situations rather narrowly confined to modern American naming practices -- immigrants Anglicizing their names (though no discussion of how and why this has fallen out of favor in the last century), celebrities changing theirs, and the deep ire with which many men view the apparently shocking practice of women choosing not to change their names upon marriage. Overall, the book read like a somewhat padded magazine article -- an okay way to pass the time, but not worth seeking out. ( )
3 vote lorax | Jul 28, 2011 |
See, now, this could have been a pretty good book. It had a lot of interesting chapters, even if they tended to skim the surface of what initially promised to be a rather fascinating subject. But it's a BIG subject, and the book is relatively short, so you know...one shouldn't expect too much. It's interesting to read about names and social structures...and names and their mystical power...character names in literature. All that was cool, and I was enjoying it. But then, dear me, they got to the chapter on (whisper it) MAIDEN names.

Holy crap, what is up with Anne Bernays? Apparently, if you give up your maiden name and take your husband's name YOU HAVE TOTALLY GIVEN IT TO THE MAN, you silly oppressed boot-licker, you. Um, is it just me? Or did it escape Darling Anne's notice that a maiden name is actually the name of the woman's FATHER? And that there isn't a whole lot of difference (oppression-wise) between carrying your daddy's name or your sweetie's name? Apparently, for Anne, the very notion of taking Justin's last name was an agonizing blow to her WHOLE IDENTITY(which must be very loosely anchored indeed).

WhatEVER. The rest of the book was not insanely ideological. I guess she needed to blow off steam somewhere. Maybe Justin is a big pain in the neck and never washes the dishes and drops his dirty underwear on the floor.
2 vote 2chances | Oct 14, 2009 |
Interesting but not overwhelming; perhaps the examples rolled on beyond what was necessary and kept going beyond what was tolerable; the sub-title conveys that "what we call ourselves" matters and that point is made; however then it's made again and again with a lot of subtle political agenda along the way. Summary: presents some novel message, but definitely not a must-read. ( )
  jpsnow | Apr 13, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0684838672, Paperback)

To name a thing is to have power over it. Justin Kaplan and Anne Bernays explore the history and social significance of names in this intriguing and thoughtful book. They trace the growing trend in the United States away from traditional naming conventions toward creative and individually meaningful personal names. They also illustrate how national character shows itself in the names people give in different countries, and they discuss naming lore from Adam and Eve to Ellis Island.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:15 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

As delightful and playful as it is profound and serious, The Language of Names is an absolute original -- a fascinating book that reveals us to ourselves, that demonstrates the endless variety of ways in which names shape our daily lives. Drawing on social and literary history, psychology and anthropology, anecdotes, and life stories, biographer Justin Kaplan and novelist Anne Bernays have written a fascinating account of names and naming in contemporary society that touches on class structure, ethnic and religious practices, manners, and everyday life. Graceful, eloquent, and richly informed, The Language of Names explores and illuminates our favorite subject -- ourselves.… (more)

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