Each nest of Superb Fairy Wrens has a 'family' name – a surname given to all the members by the mother when the chicks were eggs. This is so that when mothers return to the nest with food, they can test their offspring to make sure they’re not a cuckoo. Nine days after having laid her eggs, the mother sits by the eggs and start singing a unique tune. She will sing the same tune every four minutes, over and over for a week, and the chicks inside the eggs not only hear the tune, they commit it to memory. If a chick doesn't sing the tune when the parents come back to the nest with food, it doesn't get fed.
Horses have names. If you have a horse called Alan, in a stall, and another horse, Robert, walks by and goes out of sight behind a barrier, Alan notices him and goes back to eating. If, when Robert is behind the barrier, scientists play his ‘identifying whinny’ Alan will only pay a bit of attention. But when scientists play the ‘identifying whinny’ of a different horse, Alan gets really freaked out because the horse he saw walk past was Robert.
Parrots have names too - and they can not only name themselves, but learn other parrots' names.
Research on a group of wild dolphins off the coast of Scotland showed that each individual has a signature whistle. When they meet at sea, one of the first things they do is introduce themselves using their unique whistles. They also respond when they hear their own name. A dolphin will answer when it hears the sound of its own whistle, repeating the whistle as if to say ‘I’m here’.
A study from the University of Cambridge and the business school Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC) Paris reported that Germans with noble-sounding surnames such as Kaiser ‘emperor’, Fürst ‘prince’ or König ‘king’ were more likely to hold managerial positions than countrymen with names denoting more common occupations. The more common the actual ordinary occupation that a last name suggested such as Koch ‘cook’ or Bauer ‘farmer’, the lower the odds that individuals with that name would work as a manager rather than an employee.
The researchers note that surnames may not have the same influence in less-formal cultures such as the United States, 'in which co-workers commonly refer to each other by their first name'. Tim Cook of Apple and Larry Page of Google clearly weren't held back by their surnames.
This study suggests that in older, more tradition-bound societies, names, and the status level they suggest, still leave a permanent impression.
It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to.
Names are not always what they seem.
British surnames came about largely thanks to the Domesday book – before that nobody bothered.
Marriage can change your name. In Japan, married couples are legally required to have the same surname although the government does allow female civil servants to use their unmarried names.
Other jurisdictions such as Greece and Quebec, however, forbid a woman from taking her husband’s surname, for reasons of gender equality.
French law has required you to use the name on your birth certificate since 1789, but anyone can adopt their spouse's surname for social purposes.
The World Health Organisation has recently issued advice on how scientists should name diseases so as not to offend anyone. So these are out: Spanish Flu - might offend the Spanish and affects tourism. Legionnaire's disease – might encourage people to shun Legionnaires in the street.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – might offend people called Creutzfeldt (or Jakob).
Swine flu – might damage farming and prejudice against those working with pigs.
Sudden Death Syndrome – just too frightening.
Instead, WHO ask that you 'minimize unnecessary negative impact of disease names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups'.
They suggest generic descriptive terms are used when the specifics of an illness haven’t been established e.g. 'watery diarrhoea' and 'neurologic syndrome'. When the illness is better understood they recommend the use of plain, non-specialist words like progressive, juvenile, severe, winter. And you have to make sure that you don’t inadvertently create an inappropriate acronym (for example, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) accidentally caused offence because a 'Sar' (Special Administration Region) is Chinese administrative jargon for Hong Kong.
Not everyone gets offended of course. The inhabitants of Old Lyme, Connecticut, after which Lyme disease gets its name, are rather proud that a disease put them on the map. The Lyme County store sells T-shirts with pictures of ticks on, and the local youth lacrosse team is called the Ticks.
In 1943, Heinrich Himmler issued an order making it a criminal act to name any domesticated animal Adolf.
Cows with names produce more milk than cows that don’t have names.
Research from the LSE suggests holders of 'rich' surnames live three years longer than average.
In Norway, to change your surname to one that 200 or fewer people have, you must ask from permission from everyone who has that name.
In 1896, Josephine was the 937th most popular name for a boy in the US.
The inability to remember a name is anomia.
Evelyn Waugh’s first wife’s name was Evelyn. They were known as He-Evelyn and She-Evelyn.
The Dutch made up their own surnames. Dutch family names were not required until 1811 after Napoleon annexed the Netherlands. The story goes that Napoleon forced everybody to take on a family name for taxation purposes. The Dutch thought it was only going to be a temporary measure, so they made up comical or offensive sounding names, such as Naaktgeboren ‘Born naked’ and Poepjes ‘Little pooh’, as a practical joke on their French occupiers. Others included Baas ‘The Boss’, Niemands ‘Nobody’ and Niemandsvriend ‘Nobody’s friend’.
Tartle (Scottish) is the moment when you have to introduce someone but you just can’t remember their name.
Among the names rejected for the dwarfs in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were Slutty, Burpy, Flabby, Dirty, Chesty & Awful.
Taxonomy, the naming of things, is the oldest profession – according to the Bible, at least: 'And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.' Genesis 2:19 – but naming things you discover after yourself is considered particularly bad form and referred to as ‘Taxonomic onanism’.
In 1963, 5,529 baby boys were named Nigel in England and Wales; in 2014, only 10 were.
Nottingham was originally called Snotengaham. It was ruled by a Saxon Chief named Snot, it literally means ‘the homestead of Snot's people’.
After Montenegro became independent of Yugoslavia, its internet domain name changed from .yu to .me