November 28, 2015
A few days ago, I was tending to my family tree, going over information relating to one of my ancestors, who was named Narcis (the same as Narcissus). The family used patronymics, thus my ancestor, child of Narcis was known as Ovsanna Narcis. The family and their extended relatives, and indeed their entire community, had a habit of using the same given names through successive generations. Though there were common names used by many families, some families used names others did not. I feel the reason they chose the same names of their relatives is due to reverence: 1) of their relatives and 2) of religious figures.
The combination of thinking of this and modern naming motives put in my mind a picture of the the changing trends in naming throughout the ages which of course differ by region. Taking England as an example, it seems to me that people in the Dark Ages poured meaning into their children when they named them and that they wished to bestow on them certain characteristics when they named them. This is similar to what was found with indigenous North Americans whose motives for naming are better documented; the motive being to pour characteristics into the child. During the slow development of the later medieval period, the structure of the church, family and monarchy seemed to shift the trend away from bestowing characteristics to reverence, either of religious figures or monarchs. Then as we move into the modern period, the motive behind naming children has largely moved away from reverence to, I feel, narcissism and phonetics. There has been a shift away from naming children with any sort of meaning of sentiment, e.g. because a grandfather or favoured saint had a certain name, to naming for purely cosmetic reasons, e.g. I like the sound of Brooklyn or Sonny.
There appears to be similar trends in place names, but I have less information to go on, but early place names in Britain appear to be largely descriptive, e.g. Feldton (town in the field) OR reverent, e.g. Llansantffriand (Church of St Mary). This trend does remain, but you do find for example, a lot of streets named for purely cosmetic reasons, i.e. the name actually has no meaning.
For businesses names, I am not aware of any early examples, but from around the 1500s, business names appear to be largely descriptive or a reference to the founders, e.g. Shore Porters, R. Jones & Sons. In the Victorian period, both in the UK and US, using place names in business names became popular, but they were still descriptive, e.g. The Chicago-Detroit Railway Company. But again, in the present, you find a shift towards names that are not in any way relevant to the business and often have no meaning, e.g. GoDaddy.
I am interested to hear others' thought on the topic of changing motives behind naming.
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