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An Anthropology of Names and Naming
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  • Page extent: 304 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.62 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521848633 | ISBN-10: 0521848636)

DOI: 10.2277/0521848636

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 (Stock level updated: 17:01 GMT, 26 November 2015)


This book is about personal names, something of abiding interest to specialists and lay readers alike. Over a million people have checked the American Name Society website since 1996, for instance. Many philosophers and linguists suggest that names are 'just' labels, but parents internationally are determined to get their children's names 'right'. Personal names may be given, lost, traded, stolen and inherited. This collection of essays provides comparative ethnography through which we examine the politics of naming; the extent to which names may be property-like; and the power of names themselves, both to fix and to destabilize personal identity. Our purpose is not only to renew anthropological attention to names and naming, but to show how this intersects with current interests in political processes, the relation between bodies and personal identities, ritual and daily social life.

• Introduction providing a cross-disciplinary overview • Written by well-known authors spanning a wide range of disciplines and countries


1. 'Entangled in histories': an introduction to the anthropology of names and naming Barbara Bodenhorn and Gabriele vom Bruck; 2. 'Your child deserves a name': possessive individualism and the politics of memory of pregnancy loss Linda Layne; 3. Names that do not need people André Iteanu; 4. The substance of northwest Amazonian names Stephen Hugh-Jones; 5. Teknonymy and the evocation of the 'social' among the Zafimaniry of Madagascar Maurice Bloch; 6. What's in a name? Name bestowal and the identity of spirits in Mayotte and Northwest Madagascar Michael Lambek; 7. Calling into being: naming and speaking names on Alaska's North Slope Barbara Bodenhorn; 8. On being named and not named: authority, persons and their names in Mongolia Caroline Humphrey; 9. Injurious names: naming, disavowal and recuperation in contexts of slavery and emancipation Susan Benson; 10. Where names fall short: names as performances in contemporary urban South Africa Thomas Blom Hansen; 11. Names as bodily signs Gabriele vom Bruck.


Review of the hardback: 'This collection of thoughtful essays offers an anthropologically grounded discussion of how names are bestowed, changed, shared, coveted, rejected, used and sometimes abused in a wide range of ethnographic contexts. It provides an excellent array of case studies, from high-ranking Yemeni Imams to African American slaves who must not only relinquish their given names but also answer to demeaning or absurd monikers, and many illustrative examples in between. … In an era when names act simultaneously as markers of identity and tools of surveillance, this edited volume provides much material for thought and comparison on the regional significance of names. Indeed this welcome set of essays will be of interest to both cultural and linguistic anthropologists in search of a deeper answer to the age-old question of what is in a name.' The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute


Barbara Bodenhorn, Gabriele vom Bruck, Linda Layne, André Iteanu, Stephen Hugh-Jones, Maurice Bloch, Michael Lambek, Caroline Humphrey, Susan Benson, Thomas Blom Hansen

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