Monday, April 10, 2006

Name, Please

Here’s another one for the Human Interface Protocol.

Kinds of Names

A name is something used to distinguish one individual from another, both when referring to them in conversation and when determining whom a specific statement is directed toward. Every person has at least three names: a first name, a last name, and a full name. Full names are usually only referral names – names used to refer to someone, but not to address them (“Have you seen John Doe today?”). First names are the most common interface name – names used to address someone (“Hello, Jane.”) – but are also commonly used as a referral name. Last names are commonly used as call names – names used to get someone’s attention (“Hey, Smith! Over here!”) – since the likelihood of having multiple people in a crowd with the same last name is smaller than the likelihood of having multiple people in a crowd with the same first name. However, things get more complicated from here. People with common first names may have to be referred to by their full name at least once in a conversation if context does not allow them to be distinguished otherwise. They may even have to use their last name as an interface name if they find themselves in a room with several people who share their first name. Last names are also commonly used in the military to address individuals. In rare cases, people with short, simple full names that flow as easily as a single name may be interfaced using their full name.

Nicknames are often used to in lieu of given names. The reasons for this can vary from distinguishing between several people with the same given name (as in “James”, “Jim”, and “Jimmy”) to singling out someone of particular importance (“Sugar plum” for you significant other or “The Big Boss” for the manager you would least like to screw up in front of). Nicknames used to interface can be “communal” (used by everyone), much like a first name. However, individuals may have nicknames that are used by one or a few people who are closer to them as a term of endearment. Referral nicknames are used to refer to someone, but may be awkward when used to address them (see every mob nickname).

Some people may have additions to their names known as “titles” – Doctor, General, Senator, Sir etc. These titles can be used alone or in conjunction with the last name when addressing someone. The title is rarely used alone when referring to someone (unless you’re talking about The Doctor). It is best to use a title in conjunction with at least the last name if not the full name when referring to someone.


Now that we are familiar with several different kinds of names, it is important to understand the context in which these may be used. Formal requests should use more formal names, using titles where applicable. Casual conversation may involve first names and communal nicknames. A more familiar nickname may be appropriate when trying to comfort or encourage someone. Trash talk is a special category, which may result in new nicknames being created for the express purpose of taunting.

It’s also important to consider the relationship between you and the person you are talking to. Parents may have multiple nicknames for their children, but children have only a few things that they can call their parents. Some names are appropriate for close friends but not for acquaintances. If you are not sure if a name is appropriate, use a name that is the next level up in formality.

When referring to someone in conversation, it is important to pay attention to context to avoid confusion. If there is a “Sam” in your department at work, it is sufficient to refer to him as “Sam” to other coworkers in your department. However, when talking to people in other departments or outside of work, it is necessary to clarify which Sam you are talking about. You can use their full name, or call them “Sam from finance” or “Sam from work” or “Sam the stalker”, so long as it creates a unique identifier in the context of the conversation. This is particularly crucial if you know multiple people with the same name. You wouldn’t want to be talking about stalker Sam while the people you’re talking to think you’re talking about your cousin Sam. That's just awkward.


Blogger Walt said...

"Sugar Plum" ??? Now everyone knows you're single... ;-) And I don't care who YOU are referring to, "The Big Boss" means only one thing.

I notice that Thason's mob nickname is avian-related.

4/11/2006 10:37 AM  
Anonymous John said...

What about, "Hey, buddy", or "Hey, pal", or the universally generic, "Hey, you".
I remember reading a story, whether it was a novel or short story, I don't remember, where people in this village or country, would call each other by their own name. That is, I would call you, or the garbage man, or the President, John (if my name was John)(which it is). That person would call me by their name, in return. That way, one only needed to remember one name (one's name)(for the long term)(that is). There were never any awkward meetings where one hoped one would never have to say the other's name because one had forgotten it. But then, one might ask, why not just name everybody John? I don't have the answer to that.
I think the story was written by Joseph Conrad, or as I call him, Joseph Conrad.

4/11/2006 7:56 PM  
Blogger SpakKadi said...


1) It was that or "Sweetie Pie".
2) My being single is a secret? No wonder no one talked to me at the end of season party. They thought I was taken. :P


Hmmm. I may need an addedum for interacting with individuals of unknown designation. Appendix B, paragraph 5 - generic designators. Buddy, pal, man, dude, you, kid, guy, sport, etc.

That story description reminds me of a Monty Python skit where all of the characters were named Bruce.

4/11/2006 8:36 PM  

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