The ‘universal’ structure of name grammars and the impact of social engineering on the evolution of natural information systems


Proper name systems provide individuals with personal identifiers, and convey social and hereditary information. We identify a common information structure in the name grammars of the world’s languages, which makes this complex information processing task manageable, and evaluate the impact that the re-engineering of naming practices for legal and political purposes has had on the communicative and psychological properties of these socially evolved systems. While East-Asian naming systems have been largely unaffected by state legislation, legal interference has transformed Western naming practices, making individual names harder to process and remember. Further, the structural collapse of Western naming systems has not affected all parts of society equally: In the US, it has had a disproportionate impact on those sections of society that are least successful in economic and social terms. We consider the implications of these changes for name memory across the lifespan, and for future naming practices.

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