I have recently been reading the blog of Martin Fenner and came upon the article Personal names around the world[ref 1] . His post is in fact a reflection on a W3C paper on Personal Names around the World1 (same title). This is apparently coming out of the i18n effort and is an effort to help authors and database designers make informed decisions about names on the web.
I read Martin’s post with some interest because in Language Documentation getting someone’s name as a source or for informed consent is very important (from a U.S. context). Working in a archive dealing with language materials, I see lot of names. One of the interesting situations which came to me from an Ecuadorian context was different from what I have seen in the w3.org paper or in the w3.org discussion. The naming convention went like this:
The elder was known by the younger’s name plus a relationship.
My suspicion is that it is a taboo to name the dead. So to avoid possibly naming the dead, the younger was referenced and the the relationship was invoked. This affected me in the archive as I am supposed to note who the speaker is on the recordings. In lue of the speakers name, I have the young son’s first name, who is well known in the community, and is in his 30′s or so, and I have the relationship. So in English this might sound like
John’s mother. Now what am I supposed to put in the metadata record for the audio recordings I am cataloging? I do not have a name but I do have a relationship to a known (to the community) person.
I inquired with a literacy consultant who has worked in Ecuador with indigenous people for some years, she informed me that in one context she was working in everyone knew what family line they were from and all the
names were derived from that family line by position. It was of such that to call someone by there name was an insult.
It sort of reminds me of this sketch by Fry and Laurie.