A name is a word or term used for identification. Names can identify a class or category of things, or a single thing, either uniquely, or within a given context. A personal name identifies a specific unique and identifiable individual person, and may or may not include a middle name. The name of a specific entity is sometimes called a proper name (although that term has a philosophical meaning also) and is a proper noun. Other nouns are sometimes, more loosely, called names; an older term for them, now obsolete, is "general names". A name can be given to a person, place, or thing; for example, parents can give their child a name or scientist can give an element a name.
Caution must be exercised when translating, for there are ways that one language may prefer one type of name over another. A feudal naming habit is used sometimes in other languages: the French sometimes refer to Aristotle as "le Stagirite" from one spelling of his place of birth, and English speakers often refer to Shakespeare as "The Bard", recognizing him as a paragon writer of the language. Also, claims to preference or authority can be refuted: the British did not refer to Louis-Napoleon as Napoleon III during his rule.
In the ancient world, particularly in the ancient near-east (Israel, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia) names were thought to be extremely powerful and to act, in some ways, as a separate manifestation of a person or deity. This viewpoint is responsible both for the reluctance to use the proper name of God in Hebrew writing or speech, as well as the common understanding in ancient magic that magical rituals had to be carried out "in [someone's] name". By invoking a god or spirit by name, one was thought to be able to summon that spirit's power for some kind of miracle or magic (see Luke 9:49, in which the disciples claim to have seen a man driving out demons using the name of Jesus.) This understanding passed into later religious tradition, for example the stipulation in Catholicexorcism that the demon cannot be expelled until the exorcist has forced it to give up its name, at which point the name may be used in a stern command which will drive the demon away.
In the Old Testament, the names of individuals are meaningful, and a change of name indicates a change of status. For example, the patriarch Abram and his wife Sarai are renamed "Abraham" and "Sarah" when they are told they will be the father and mother of many nations (Genesis 17:4, 17:15). Simon was renamed Peter when he was given the Keys to Heaven, "keys to the scriptures that lead to the acceptance into the kingdom of heaven". (Gospel of Matthew 16).
Throughout the Bible, characters are given names at birth that reflect something of significance or describe the course of their lives. For example: Solomon meant peace, and the king with that name was the first whose reign was without war. Likewise, Joseph named his firstborn son Manasseh (Hebrew: "causing to forget") as a gesture of forgiveness to his brothers for selling him into slavery.
Biblical Jewish people did not have surnames which were passed from generation to generation. However, they were typically known as the child of their father. For example: דוד בן ישי (David ben Yishay) meaning, David, son of Jesse.
The Babylonian Talmud maintains that names exert a mystical influence over their bearers, and a change of name is one of four actions that can avert an evil heavenly decree, that would lead to punishment after one's death. Rabbinical commentators differ as to whether the name's influence is metaphysical, connecting a person to their soul, or bio-socio-psychological, where the connection affects his personality, appearance and social capacities. The Talmud also states that all those who descend to Gehenna will rise in the time of Messiah. However, there are three exceptions, one of which is he who calls another by a derisive nickname.
Naming conventions are useful in many aspects of everyday life, enabling the casual user to understand larger structures.
Street names within a city may follow a naming convention; some examples include:
In Manhattan, roads that cross the island from east to west are called "Streets". Those that run the length of the island (North-South) are called "Avenues". Most of Manhattan's streets and avenues are numbered, with "1st Street" being near the southern end of the island, and "219th Street" being near the northern end, while "1st Avenue" is near the eastern edge of the island and "12th Avenue" near the western edge.
In Ontario, numbered concession roads are East-West whereas "lines" are North-South routes.
In San Francisco at least three series of parallel streets are alphabetically named, e.g. Irving, Judah, Kirkham, Lawton, Moraga, Noriega, Ortega, Pacheco, Quintara, Rivera, Santiago, Taraval, Ulloa, Vicente, Wawona.
The same tendency is seen in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, where Arlington Street is followed by roads to the west running parallel to it and named Berkeley, Clarendon, Dartmouth, Exeter, Fairfield, Gloucester, and Hereford.
In Washington, DC, East Capitol Street runs east-west through the Capitol. East-west streets moving away from Capitol Street toward both the south (toward the Potomac River) and the north are lettered A, B, C,..., omitting J to avoid confusion on street signs and addresses, but after these are exhausted to the north, the streets are named with simple words in alphabetical order, omitting a few letters such as "x". The first cycle of names consists all of one-syllable words; then followed by a cycle of two-syllable words; then followed by a cycle of three-syllable words, and before these are exhausted, Maryland is reached. (Washington has north-south streets that are numbered, increasing to either side of North Capitol which likewise runs through the Capitol.) Suffixes (NE, SW, etc.) are used to distinguish between (up to four) duplicate addresses. For example 140 D Street SW, to indicate the 140 D Street location southwest of the Capitol
In Montgomery, Alabama, the old major avenues are named for the Presidents of the United States, in their order of entering office, omitting John Quincy Adams. Hence, these streets are Washington Ave., Adams Ave., Jefferson Ave., Madison Ave., Monroe Ave., Jackson Ave., but not much farther than that. This was just the old plan from a long time ago, and it was eventually dropped. For example, there is not a Buchanan Ave., a Lincoln Ave., or a Johnson Ave.
In Brampton, Ontario, different sections of town all have streets starting with the same letter and the alphabetical order reflects chronology.
In Phoenix, Arizona, roads east of Central Avenue are termed streets while those west are avenues. A similar system applies in Nashville, Tennessee, but only to the numbered avenues and streets, west and east of the Cumberland River respectively, all of which run roughly north-south.
Large corporate, university, or government campuses may follow a naming convention for rooms within the buildings to help orient tenants and visitors. Otherwise, rooms may be numbered in some kind of a rational scheme.
Parents may follow a naming convention when selecting names for their children. Some have chosen alphabetical names by birth order. In some East Asian cultures, it is common for one syllable in a two syllable given name to be a generation name which is the same for immediate siblings. In many cultures it is common for the son to be named after the father or a grandfather. In certain African cultures, such as in Cameroon, the eldest son gets the family name for his given name.
In other cultures, the name may include the place of residence, or the place of birth. The Roman naming convention denotes social rank.
Products may follow a naming convention. Automobiles typically have a binomial name, a "make" (manufacturer) and a "model", in addition to a model year, such as a 2007 Chevrolet Corvette. Sometimes there is a name for the car's "decoration level" or "trim line" as well: e.g., Cadillac Escalade EXTPlatinum, after the precious metal. Computers often have increasing numbers in their names to signify the next generation.
Courses at schools typically follow a naming convention: an abbreviation for the subject area and then a number ordered by increasing level of difficulty.
Many numbers (e.g. bank accounts, government IDs, credit cards, etc.) are not random but have an internal structure and convention. Virtually all organizations that assign names or numbers will follow some convention in generating these identifiers. Airline flight numbers, space shuttle flight numbers, even phone numbers all have an internal convention.
The use of personal names is not unique to humans. Dolphins also use symbolic names, as has been shown by recent research. Individual dolphins have distinctive whistles, to which they will respond even when there is no other information to clarify which dolphin is being referred to.