Personal Names

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All human societies assign specific names to individuals. Beyond this generalization, however, societies exhibit considerable variation in their naming systems. To give but a few examples, the names may or may not have semantic meaning; they may be drawn from a small number of possible names or may be unique for each individual; they may or may not be different for male or female; and they may be fixed for life or be changeable. Personal names are also subject to society-specific restrictions on their use, and they may in fact be rarely used (with kin terms, for example, often taking their place in most conversational settings).

Evidence for the use of personal names in the line leading to Homo sapiens is confined to the advent of writing systems, but there is no reason to doubt that personal names have existed for as long as the human capacity for language has been present.

Some elements of personal naming may be present in a small number of other species, but none exhibit the same type and degree of naming in human populations. There are three elements that make up personal names. First, a specific form-meaning mapping such that one individual has one (or more) form(s). Second, the form (word, call, whistle, smell) is known and used by other group members. Third, the name functions within a larger language system; e.g., for disambiguation, displaced reference, reinforcement of group identity, etc.  Dolphins appear to have a sound-meaning mapping for each individual ("signature whistle"). (1,2)  However, this form is used by the individual dolphin in a manner suggesting self-identification; it is not known whether other members of the group ever use the whistle to refer to another individual.


Timing of appearance of the difference in the Hominin Lineage as a defined date or a lineage separation event. The point in time associated with lineage separation events may change in the future as the scientific community agrees upon better time estimates. Lineage separation events are defined in 2017 as:

  • the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of humans and old world monkeys was 25,000 - 30,000 thousand (25 - 30 million) years ago
  • the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of humans and chimpanzees was 6,000 - 8,000 thousand (6 - 8 million) years ago
  • the emergence of the genus Homo was 2,000 thousand (2 million) years ago
  • the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of humans and neanderthals was 500 thousand years ago
  • the common ancestor of modern humans was 100 - 300 thousand years ago

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100 thousand years ago
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  1. Facts about signature whistles of bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, Sayigh, Laela S., H. Esch Carter, Wells Randall S., and Janik Vincent M. , 12/2007, Volume 74, Issue 6, p.1631 - 1642, (2007)