Proper Name

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Proper Name


a word or word group that, unlike a common noun, designates an individual or collective person or object in its entirety and singularity, individualizes the person or object, and unambiguously stands for the person or object independently of context.

If one disregards certain semantic features of certain groups of proper names, the common distinguishing trait of proper names is the denotative character of their meaning. Personal names constitute the core group, the most “authentic” proper names. Genetically, all proper names are common nouns, and no clear line can be drawn between the two, as in the case of ethnic designations and trademarks. Proper names with internal stuctures both clear (“Novgorod,” from novyi [“new”] and gorod [“city”]) and obscure (“Moscow”) are used identically. They occupy a distinct position in relation to other units of the vocabulary, since they contain less linguistic information and significantly more cultural information than common nouns. The definition of the class of proper names and the class’s boundaries vary in the different disciplines that study proper names—linguistics, logic, philosophy, mythology, and so on.

From the point of view of mythological-symbolic consciousness, which reduces language to a collection of names and regards proper names as the words that fulfill most precisely the function of naming, proper names play a central role in the ontology of language. A number of classical and medieval theories considered proper names to be signs linked to the essence of that which was being named and symbolically connected with the deepest meaning of that which was being named. The immanent—as distinct from the phonetic or graphic—name, as understood in the light of Plato’s theories, was considered to be the root of individual existence. This theory was revived and developed in the 20th century by P. A. Florenskii, S. N. Bulgakov, and M. Heidegger. In its most extreme form, this theory identified the name with that which was being named or attributed mystical properties to the name’s sound or graphic representation; it also considered the name to be a condensation of the power of the named object, which led to the development of verbal charms and taboos.

These theories contrast with rationalist views, which originated with Democritus, who argued that every name is arbitrary in nature. K. Marx held that the name of any given object has nothing in common with that object’s nature. Linguists and logicians who develop this line of thought consider proper names to be unmotivated signs, one means of designating the various points of spatiotemporal reality; the signs can be replaced by other signs (renaming), numbers (as in the case of the streets in New York City), or algebraic symbols. The selection and total number of proper names are determined by extrasemiotic factors, as with the lists of saints’ names in Christianity or Islam. There is no connection in material reality between a name and that which is named; this connection exists only in the consciousness of the namers.


Voloshinov, V. N. Marksizm ifilosofiia iazyka. Leningrad [1929].
Bulgakov, S. N. Filosofiia imeni. Paris [1953].
Superanskaia, A. V. Obshchaia teoriia imeni sobstvennogo. Moscow, 1973.
Nikonov, V. A. Imia iobshchestvo. Moscow, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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