Issues in the Philosophy of Proper Names

  • Izydora Dqmbska
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 119)


Among words commonly classed as names, proper names form a certain natural class which is interesting because of its semantic, psychological, and cognitive role. Proper names are par excellence expressions used in everyday language, and — in the field of scholarship — expressions used in the language of historiography and other humanities. This is due to the basic function of proper names, which consists in naming individual objects that have a certain personality or else a quasi-personality or pseudo-personality. As such, proper names are accordingly most closely connected with man and his conscious activity, for they are either names of human individuals (‘Peter’, ‘John’, etc.), whether real or fictitious (such as names of literary characters), or names conventionally given by human beings to other objects in order to single out their individual character and to bring out their historical continuity. For instance, we give proper names to domestic or domesticated animals with which we have personal contacts: dogs, cats, hedgehogs, etc. We give such names to old trees which are objects of worship (such as the ‘Devaitis’ oak in medieval Lithuania), to inanimate objects which are of special value to us and have a history of their own (cf. the names of knights’ swords, such as Roland’s ‘Durandal’, or precious stones, such as ‘Kohi-noor’, etc.). Proper names are also given to topographical objects, such as towns, rivers, mountains, etc., and in such cases serve to denote certain individual objects connected with man and his past.


Literary Character Definite Description Situational Context Personal Pronoun Intentional Object 
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  1. 1.
    By the content of a language I mean the set of constant and variable expressions assigned to the objects of the process and results of cognition which are expressed in that language.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The fact that a proper name often functions as a description of this kind is pointed out by B. Russell in Chap. 10 of his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, London 1919.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cf. B. Russell, Human Knowledge, London 1948, pp. 87ff. 4 Loc. cit.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Logika (Logic), Warsaw 1949, p. 114.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    B. Russell, Human Knowledge, p. 87.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Ibid. p. 93.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    With regard to the analysis of intentional objects, especially non-independent and heteronomous objects of works of art, see Chap. X in Vol. II of The Controversy over the Existence of the World by Roman Ingarden, as well as other works by the same author.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Carnap’s views on the subject of proper names are discussed in those sections of this paper which are not included in the present book. (Ed.)Google Scholar

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© PWN — Polish Scientific Publishers — Warszawa 1979

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  • Izydora Dqmbska

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