What’s in a name?

For years there has been wild debate and speculation about the true meaning of ‘the name’.

This emotive discussion has taken various forms; the name game, the Strawman, the corporate fiction … all of them pretty much arguing the same thing, but ignoring commonalities.

It’s pretty much become a pissing contest which seems to achieve nothing other than diminish the issue into the ‘woo’ basket and besmirch the entire ‘freedom movement’.

But never being one to shy away from an entertaining pissing contest, I decided when free time presented itself, to find a convenient wall and partake in a bit of urinary freedom myself.

For my weapon of choice in this Battle of the Bladders, I elected to go for the non-conventional approach of etymology and historical usage. Radical, I know – but given the veritable reservoir of pee that had been passed before I even stepped up to the plate, I needed something that would help me stand out from the crowd.

I’ve also decided to approach this from the angle that ‘the name’ is actually not a ‘name’ as such, but a word phrase.

So first, some background definitions and provenance;

mister
as a title of courtesy before a man’s Christian name, mid-15c.,

I’m already intrigued; Christian name. Really? No mention of family name … interesting.

Mr.
mid-15c., abbreviation of master (q.v.). Used from 1814 with a following noun or adj.,

OK, so now my interest has REALLY been piqued! Anything that refers to an amendment of a change in the early 19 c. is something that requires attention. Given the cataclysmic changes in legislation and the societal fabric around that period, and corruption of word usage is not merely a ‘coincidence’.

Probably a good time to also define ‘noun’ and ‘adjective’ as a reference point.

noun
a word used to identify any of a class of people or things

adjective
a word that modifies a noun or other substantive by limiting, qualifying, or specifying.

… and just for good measure, from this definition let’s qualify what is meant by ‘other substantive’;

sub·stan·tive (sbstn-tv)
adj.
1. Substantial; considerable.
2. Independent in existence or function; not subordinate.
3. Not imaginary; actual; real.
4. Of or relating to the essence or substance; essential: substantive information.
5. Having a solid basis; firm.

[Middle English substantif, self-sufficient, independent, from Old French, substantive, from Late Latin substantvus, from Latin substantia, substance; see substance.]

So now we have our core definitions and etymology sorted.

Let’s get back to basics; ‘Mr.’ is used with a following noun or adjective. So, applying this rule, what is the ‘family name’; an adjective or a noun? And what is it identifying or modifying?

Let’s get to some specific examples;

Mr. Smith   a.k.a   Mr. John Smith   a.k.a   John Smith

Firstly, ‘Mr. Smith‘. Now clearly, ‘Smith’ is not the Christian name, so ‘Mr.’ can not be claimed to be ‘mister’, due to it not complying with the mid-15c. definition from above. By process of elimination, we’re left with the 1814 variant, which then places ‘Smith’ as the adjective or noun.

However, given there is no reference to a Proper Noun in the description, it can not be denoting a ‘unique individual’.

Again, by elimination and deductive reasoning, this only leaves us with ‘Smith’ being a noun. It can’t be an adjective if there is nothing for it to modify.  ‘Mr.’ is qualifying that which is to follow as either a noun or an adjective, and given ‘Smith’ is the only word to follow, it is a noun.

noun
a word used to identify any of a class of people or things

Having ‘Smith’ as a word to identify a class of things is wholly consistent with the notion of ‘family names’ which existed precisely around the time of this 19 c. amendment to the use of ‘Mr.’. ‘Family names’ were a hot topic in discussions of changes to slavery; specifically the data to be collected and registered in order for property titles to be accurately recorded and issued. Again, this is not a coincidence. [nothing ever is]

Just to recap, summarise and clarify; ‘Mr. Smith’ fully adheres to both the definition and the etymology, as well as the historical and political environment of the time.

‘Mr.’ is the indicator of a noun or adjective to follow.

‘Smith’ is the noun, to identify the class of people or thing.

In 1814, the ‘class of people or thing’ only had one inference; chattel slave.

What about Mr. John Smith?

Again, let’s refer to the definitions and provenance. ‘Mr.’ indicates that a noun or an adjective [or both] will follow. Given ‘John’ is both a Christian name and a proper noun, then once more by process of elimination and deductive logic, that only leaves the role of adjective for ‘Smith’. It can not be anything else given the clear rules of definition provided above.

adjective
a word that modifies a noun or other substantive by limiting, qualifying, or specifying.

If ‘Smith’ is the adjective and ‘John’ is the [proper] noun, then what is the relation between the two? How does ‘Smith’ limit, qualify or specify ‘John’?

To answer this, let’s look closer at what ‘John’ is. The clue is in the first definition, where ‘mister’ was followed by the Christian name, and was a title of courtesy. Should the intention be to diminish the status of a ‘class of people’, the last thing on one’s mind would be to extend courtesy or acknowledge a ‘substantive’ quality!

sub·stan·tive (sbstn-tv)
adj.
1. Substantial; considerable.
2. Independent in existence or function; not subordinate.
3. Not imaginary; actual; real.
4. Of or relating to the essence or substance; essential: substantive information.
5. Having a solid basis; firm.

[Middle English substantif, self-sufficient, independent, from Old French, substantive, from Late Latin substantvus, from Latin substantia, substance; see substance.]

The ‘Smith’ adjective is required to modify the substantive qualities of the ‘John’ noun, which without modification and limitation, would remain a proper noun, demanding both recognition and courtesy. This would defeat the whole purpose of the political machinations already underway in 1814, to extend a form of slavery to the entire population.

Once more, to recap, summarise and clarify; ‘Mr. John Smith’ fully adheres to both the definition and the etymology, as well as the historical and political environment of the time.

‘Mr.’ is the indicator that adjective/noun is to follow.
‘John’ is the [proper] noun and Christian name; i.e. the substantive.
‘Smith’ is the adjective employed to limit, qualify or specify the substantive.

Just to throw a bit of acid on it to test it; have you EVER heard of a ‘Sir Smith’? No.
He would be addressed as Sir John. The title and the substantive, clearly indicating Sir John was not subordinate nor imaginary, and was recognised as being both real and of substance.

Oh, and as for plain old ‘John Smith‘ … how rude and frightfully familiar!!

No recognition of the need for a title at all.

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Comments
4 Responses to “What’s in a name?”
  1. timeboard says:

    hi, i have read many of your post’s on this site and must say you speak much truth, and enteraining at the same time. i’d like to link some of your pages to my new network http://www.commonlawcollege.co.uk if ok with you, its a free site for people to join , you can contact me at hyperlinkzmedia@hotmail.com i would have emailed you but could not find a contact email.

  2. rob says:

    MPs drop the Title and only have fore and surname. Do they know something we don’t? Like Mister is a rank?

    I heard at university that the highest title in academia is Mister. Above professor etc. That calling someone Mister unless told otherwise was a just a professional courteousy. We are supposed to respond by advising our true rank in life. Sounds about right to me.

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