ANS Member Research: “Exploring the landscape of proper names and their grammatical characteristics to understand how brand names fit in” by Deborah Ball

Recently presented at the 2024 Annual Meeting of the American Name Society, Deborah Ball’s work explores proper names and their grammatical characteristics. You can watch the presentation here:

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The category of proper names is quite varied and includes personal names, place names, company names, brand names, organisations, historical events, book and film titles, and numerous other sub-categories such as ships, swords, diseases, etc. Although the literature on the linguistics of proper names is filled with examples of personal names, as well as place names and other kinds of proper names to a lesser extent, the focus of the research and discussion leans heavily towards onomastics (history and use), semantics (meaning and/or reference) and morphology (word-formation).  Much less can be found on the grammar of proper names.  However, what can be found describes the importance of grammatical indicators displayed by proper names in speech and in writing, in helping us to make correct interpretations between those proper names and other kinds of words such as common nouns.  It appears that proper names can range from being clearly proper names to being ambiguously so, and where there is ambiguity, there is grammar to point us in the right direction.  Key grammatical indicators, at least in the English language, include the presence/absence of determiners and singularity/plurality.  Although most proper names behave in a similar way grammatically, each sub-category has its own personality, and there are of course numerous exceptions. Understanding these differences will help form a better understanding of the particularities of brand names.



Deborah Ball has been working in branding, content, marketing and communications for nearly 10 years in the UK and the US.  One special focus has been brand naming. This was a source of inspiration for a part-time PhD with the University of Oxford researching the linguistics of brand names.​


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