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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

A Natural History of Proper Naming in the Context of Emerging Mass Production: The Case of British Railway Locomotives

R Coates
University of the West of England, United Kingdom

The early history of railway locomotives in Britain is marked by two striking facts. The first is that many were given proper names, even where there was no objective need for distinguishing them in such a way. The second is that those names tended strongly to suggest attributes of the machines themselves, whether real or metaphorical/mythologized: for instance Puffing Billy as opposed to Rocket. However when, before long, locomotives came to be produced to standard types, namegiving remained the norm for at least some types but the names themselves tended to be typed, and naturally in a less constrained way than earlier ones. The sources of these second-order onymic types are of some interest, both culturally and anthropologically, and some types tended to be of very long currency in Britain. The later onymic types veered sharply away from being literally descriptive but some tended in rather complex ways to perpetuate the metaphorical approach. This paper explores the history of namegiving in an underexplored area, and proposes a general model for the emergence of name-bestowal practices.

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