Inoffizielle Ortsnamen

  • University of Zurich/Schweizerdeutsches Wörterbuch
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In onomastic and linguistic research literature, there are only a few works dealing explicitly with modern unofficial place names. The terminological delimitation of this name class alone presents some difficulties. For what an unofficial place name is is first of all explained by what it is not, namely officially fixed. Unofficial toponyms are essentially distinguished by the fact that they do not have an officially standardized status. They have mostly been developed in oral communication and are used by various groups of speakers at different times, above all to mark social affiliations. But it is precisely in their lack of official fixation that they allow an illuminating look at mechanisms of name genesis, name establishment and the social role of place names.

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Proper names have often been discussed by philosophers of language without the benefit of anthropological insights. This article combines research from these two fields in order to move toward a theory of naming as social practice – emphasizing the nature of naming and nicknaming as it is crucially attached to cultural history, social context, and individual experience. To exemplify this notion, the article outlines naming and its various functions as described by and used in the narratives of one young man from the “Diamond Street” gang who goes by the nickname “Little Creeper.” A discussion of outsiders' interpretations of gang names indicates how the meaning of a name can be transformed in different social contexts without losing its association with the initial referent. (Naming practices, proper names, ideology and language, at-risk youth)