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How do we come into naming each other? Any evolutionary reasoning?

  1. Oct 20, 2012 #1

    I have completed Class 12 in biology and am very much interested in biology and keep thinking about it for quite a fair degree. Here's one of the new questions that have come to my mind:

    We all are known by names: Tom, Dick, Harry or whatever. When we didn't have a language to comprehend ourselves with, what would have been our mode of referral to a particular someone? And when we developed the most primitive of languages, what would have caused us to name is quite clear: the need to address someone specifically but what basis would have been for giving names or more specifically, how would the first of names would have been? ( A crude sound of Ooh- Ooh Aa- Aa would have been quite cumbersome to be a name for somebody and also a lot of sound patterns would have to be made, so is there any other mode of naming others that you can think of?)

    Thanks in advance!!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 20, 2012 #2


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    why would you think names developed any differently than language in general? That is, you are asking why "Tom / Dick / Harry" but why not ask as well, why "table / chair / desk" ?
  4. Oct 20, 2012 #3
    because referring to a person would have needed first than referring to articles because of the need during hunting formations. that's my opinion.
  5. Oct 20, 2012 #4


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    That could well be, but I don't see why. What's the point in addressing a person by name if you can't tell them what you want. It seems equally likely to me that FIRST you need a word or phrase that means "Hey, let's go kill some mastodons" and another that mean "don't forget your spear"
  6. Oct 20, 2012 #5
    couldn't just sign language would have sufficed there?
  7. Oct 20, 2012 #6


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  8. Oct 20, 2012 #7


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    If there is no comprehension of language then ....

    Concrete objects would have aquired a name, which the group as a whole could definitely comprehend, before individuals of the group being named. Such commonplace items as water, sun, moon, tiger, death, etc having a vocal ejaculation that all individuals could utter and understand would be more useful for the group's survival.

    Something such as a vocalization for 'baby' probably came before adult - being that an occurance such as a birth would invoke more curiosity of the adults of the group, rather than the slow continious growth into adulthood. And then of course the sexual distinction between a girl or boy, male or female, and by extension son or daughter would play a part.

    You could envsion a red haired girl giving birth to a brown haired girl, and her name might be something such as 'brown haired daughter of the red haired mother', and over the years of it could be reduced to Bredremoth.
    Or the hunter who survives a wild animal attack might be referred to as "wild boar attack and live" which would be shortened to Wilboral.
    And if Wilboral and Bredemoth has a son then this name would be Wilboralson, and a daughter would be Bredemothdaughter or Bredemothchild. Although explained in English and similar to the Norse language or dialect, one can do a translation to caveman language.

    Until a political system was developed within the society along with organized purpose and specialization of task, with a leader and a pecking order of importance, along with growth of population, the naming of individual people was probably not really that much of a necessity since most communication would be between individual to individual or to a few individuals. It would not take that much communication to convey the idea to go out and hunt for food, if all are hungry by just picking up a spear, shaking it and making some other gestures for the other hunters to understand, which might include drawing a picture with a stick on the ground.

    Present dayhumans are great at imitation by act, gesture and verbalization.
    No doubt early humans also possessed the same qualities.

    And necessarily genes are involved.
    http://crystalesp.blogspot.ca/2007/10/cavemen-language.html [Broken]

    interesting reads
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  9. Oct 20, 2012 #8


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    Caveman is thought to have communicated by only sign launguage.
  10. Oct 20, 2012 #9
    A verbal ID would still be handy for someone using sign language, if for no other reason than to get the intended target to look in ones direction. "Hey You" would attract the attention of everyone in the group, so eventually a unique sound would be desirable for each person. It may not have meant anything at first except that "UG" and "BRT" were different individuals.
  11. Oct 20, 2012 #10
    1) Chemical modes of identification were probably the first modes to evolve.
    Most animals identify each other by smell. The chemical senses, smell and taste, are the primary means by which animals would identify each other. They also use scents to mark things. Not to mention pherenomes, although they don't always act by straight olfaction. A good, easy to observe example are the dogs clade.
    Dogs like to sniff butts to identify each other. They mark their territory by peeing on it, thus making easy to smell. They smell emotions in their scents. A dog can smell stress in sweat, probably by the adrenaline and other hormones. They also can tell when another dog is in heat.
    Social insects rely primarily on smell to organize their colonies. The queen, workers and drones are identified by smell. Insects from other colonies are identified by smell.
    Visual modes of identification may have come next. However, there are several modes of communication.
    2) Gesture mode
    There is a theory that gestures were the first mode of communication among humanoids.
    If another person had a scar, you could identify him by running your fingers down the corresponding part of your body that had the scar.
    Even three month old babies can know "sign language". That suggests to me that gesture languages may have evolved before
    3) Body ornamentation: Clothes, make up and scarring
    The ornamentation that one wears is really a form of nonverbal identification. The first "names" could have been different styles of clothes, make up and scarring.
    Humans and prehumans could have dressed up to uniquely identify themselves. Then, other people could talk about them by drawing or gesturing the patterns seen on the make up.
    I suspect that auditory names came late.

    BTW: Knitting has been with us at least 25000 years. The famous "Stone Age Venus" was usually sculpted wearing nothing but a knit hat. Make up has been with us at least a million.
  12. Oct 21, 2012 #11
    now i know. thanx
  13. Oct 21, 2012 #12


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    Speculation: individual naming is beneficial to a sufficiently advanced system of cooperative social roles in social organisms.
  14. Oct 21, 2012 #13
    could you please elaborate on that one.????
  15. Oct 21, 2012 #14
    I tried to edit this message. When I submitted it, I received an error message that the message was too short, so please lengthen the message by at least four characters.
  16. Oct 21, 2012 #15


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    Ants have "workers" and "warriors" and "queens" (breeders), for instance. Rigidly defined roles. But humans have much more complicated task delegation. One person can perform partial tasks from each of those three categories (working, warring, and breeding). For instance, somebody could be in the national guard (working for the military on the weekends) but also support some economic class of work during the weekday, in addition to having children of their own to raise. But then they could also be a volunteer at the local soup kitchen.

    This person may have several different relationships with other members of society (from either of his bosses, to his volunteer lead, to his wife and kids) so it would be convenient if there was just one word that everyone could describe him by, rather than "the worker-warrior-breeder-soup-kitchen-helper".

    I'm sure this is oversimplified though, as there's some personal/emotional aspect of individuality too. We hold individuality sacred and we admire particular individuals for qualities that may not be directly beneficial to society.
  17. Oct 22, 2012 #16
    I am not sure how this addresses my doubt!!!
  18. Oct 22, 2012 #17

    1) What is it you doubt?

    Your original question did not say that you "doubted" anything. As I understood it, you asked what form or modality the first names would have been.

    The fact that you "doubt" means that there was something somebody said or wrote that you have difficulty in believing. The implication is that this statement that you doubt is commonly known so that we understand what it is. However, maybe it isn't.

    Nobody can properly address your question until they understand what it means.
    I will restate my question.

    2) What do you think is a commonly accepted fact about "the first names" that you "suspect" isn't true?

    Please, don't take offense. I am curious, too. Sometimes, asking a question in the right way provides the answer.
  19. Oct 22, 2012 #18
    None taken. We are all just sailors in the vast ocean of knowledge trying to explore!!! Here's my first post restated:

    We are so used to naming anything and everything that we don't think about it. We all are identified by names that are symbolic ( I am not sure if this is the right word ) of ourselves and our personality. I read on once that the last names were borne out of a particular trait that was long being continued as discussed earlier. For example, a person whose hamily had all brown hair came eventually to be known as Mr. Brown and sort. So, while in the cradle of civilisation also, the names would have been a necessity. Isn't it so? Like Indus Valley Civilisation and all. Animals also live in social groups but use other means as chemicals and body odours to communicate with each other. But humans need vocal nomenclature to communicate with each other. Is it an advancement over other forms of life or the reverse and why?
  20. Oct 22, 2012 #19
    Naming is an adaptation with many modalities. I don’t think the question of which adaptation is “an advancement” has any scientific meaning. One can ask how it helps a animal survive or reproduce. However, I wouldn't use the word "advancement" that way.

    One can ask what the physical parameters of the different modalities are. However, whether one modality or the other is adapted depends as much on natural history as the physical parameters. That hand washing ritual having been completed:

    There are other animals that have adaptation analogous or even homologous to our vocal name calling. Some animals do identify each other by sounds, which in some animals are highly individual.

    Many birds and mammals identify each other by their calls. I am not sure whether you would like to call this a name. These behaviors certainly resemble name calling.

    Emperor Penguins mate for life. Parents and children have unique calls that they learn from each other. This is an interesting case in that they have names without a complete language.

    As the species has no fixed nest sites that individuals can use to locate their own partner or chick, the Emperor Penguin must rely on vocal calls alone for identification. It uses a complex set of calls that are critical to individual recognition between parents, offspring, and mates, displaying the widest variation in individual calls of all penguins. Vocalizing Emperor Penguins use two frequency bands simultaneously. Chicks use a frequency-modulated whistle to beg for food and to contact parents.”

    Cetecean languages are still being studied. They have analogues to vocal names. There is some controversy in this. However, some of us think that some cetaceans have a code sufficiently complex to call it a language. So this is a case of names embedded in a language.
    “Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) develop individually distinctive signature whistles that they use to maintain group cohesion. Unlike the development of identification signals in most other species, signature whistle development is strongly influenced by vocal learning. This learning ability is maintained throughout life, and dolphins frequently copy each other’s whistles in the wild.”

    Again, the superiority of any mode of communication is context sensitive. Any deeper discussion has to involve the physics, chemistry and physiology of a modality. I can give any list of reasons and scenarios which explain why a modality is an "advancement”. I can also give a longer list of reasons and scenarios where the modality is “inferior”.
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