June 9, 2018
The science that studies names in all their aspects is called onomastics (or onomatology—an obsolete word). The subject of this science is broad because almost everything can have a name and because the study of names theoretically encompasses all languages, all geographical and cultural regions, and all historical epochs. For practical purposes, some divisions of the subject are necessary—e.g., by language (as the study of Kiowa or Provençal names) or by geographical, historical, or similar partitions (the study of the names in India, of the Levant at the time of the Crusades, and so forth). Another division (usually combined with the preceding ones) is given by the character of the names themselves; in a very broad categorization, names of persons, or personal names, are discerned on the one hand, and names of places, or place-names, on the other. In the most precise terminology, a set of personal names is called anthroponymy and their study is called anthroponomastics. A set of place-names is called toponymy, and their study is called toponomastics. In a looser usage, however, the term onomastics is used for personal names and their study, and the term toponymy is used for place-names and their study. The term toponymy itself can be understood in two ways, even in the exact terminology: either it is taken in the broadest possible way as including inhabited places, buildings, roads, countries, mountains, rivers, lakes, oceans, stars, and so on, or it is restricted to inhabited places (cities, towns, villages, hamlets). If the latter alternative is the understanding of the term toponymy, then the uninhabited places (e.g., fields, small parts of forests) are called microtoponymy; names of streets, roads, and the like are called hodonymy; names of bodies of water, hydronymy; and names of mountains, oronymy. Additional terms are not generally used (though one occasionally hears words like chrematonymy—names of things).
In any case, different categories of names frequently must be studied together, because there are transitions. For instance, many place-names are derived from personal names (e.g., Washington), many names of planets and stars are derived from the names of mythological characters (e.g., Venus, Mars, Alpha Centauri), and many personal names are derived from place-names, names of nations, and other such names (e.g., Austerlitz, Napoleon’s battlefield; French; Scott). There is also a division of names into primary and secondary ones. Neptune is primarily the name of a Roman god; transferred to the name of a planet, it is a secondary name.
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