Names and identity
Person names have an identifying and referral function. Therefore, in modern societies parents have to give us a name at birth which we keep all our life, at least in the vital registration. The act of naming is a diffuse process, parents make a choice which is – largely unconsciously – heavily influenced by a multitude of social and psychological factors. But whereas they think to make an independent decision, the names of the full population simply follow Zipfs’ law. Why is that? Our first name is certainly important for our identity, but some researchers think that it even shapes our physical appearance during our life. In a pilot experiment we investigated “what’s in a face”: is it the first name – a real Pauline – , properties of the social group to which a first name can be associated, or nothing at all? However important, a name alone is often insufficient to identify an individual uniquely. What information in what context is needed for that, and is true identification possible? Especially for the reconstruction of people in the past this issue is non-trivial, with serious difficulties under the presence of spelling variation and errors. Nevertheless, true identification is required to underpin knowledge about variation in and aliases of names. Results and pitfalls of explorations towards badly needed golden standards for the (historical) variation in person names will be presented.