Our name is something that we are attached to for life.[i] There are exceptions, of course, such as when women in some cultures change their last name from their father’s family name to their husband’s one, an ancient patriarchal tradition. However, for the most part, the name we are given at birth follows us until we die.
Naming conventions are similar in many different cultures and countries, though there are many differences as well. As we will see, this is true of the customs in Spanish-speaking (Hispanophone) and the English-speaking (Anglophone) countries, which share similarities but are not identical.[ii] In this chapter, we will look at naming conventions, as well as the origin of some very common names, including a fair number of Spanish-English cognate names.
Different as they obviously seem at first sight, the English word name and the Spanish word nombre ‘name’ are historical cognates, going back to the same source in Proto-Indo-European. Also, they are both native words in their languages, not borrowed. English name comes from Old English nama, and Spanish nombre comes from Latin nōmen (same in the nominative and the accusative). Both, in turn, are derived from Proto-Indo-European root *nomn- with the same meaning.
The Ancient Greek equivalent of this word was ὄνομα (ónoma) ‘name’, which in the Doric and Aolic dialects was ὄνυμα (ónuma). This latter wordform survives in the cognate form Eng. ‑onym ~ Sp. -ónimo in words that we have seen in this book, such as synonym and homonym (see Part I, Chapter 6). English words ending in ‑onym are nouns and their derived adjectives end in ‑onymous. Spanish words in ‑ónimo are nouns as well as adjectives. Other common words from this Greek root are the following (in total there are around 60 words in English that end in ‑onym, many of them recent New Latin creations):
- Eng. pseudonym /ˈsʊ.də.nɪm/ ~ Sp. seudónimo: ‘a fictitious name, especially one used by an author’ (COED); it is a 19th century back-formation from the adjective pseudonymous, which comes ultimately from Gr. ψευδώνυµος ‘under a false name, falsely named’, from the prefix ψευδο- (pseudo-), combining form of ψευδής (pseudḗs) ‘false’
- Eng. eponym /ˈɛ.pə.nɪm/ ~ Sp. epónimo: ‘a word or name derived from the name of a person’ (COED); a back formation from the Greek adjective ἐπώνυμος (epṓnumos) ‘named in a significant manner, with a significant name; concerning giving one's name to something’, from ἐπί (epí) ‘upon’
- Eng. toponym /ˈtɒ.pə.nɪm/ ~ Sp. topónimo: ‘a place name, especially one derived from a topographical feature’ (COED); first coined in the 19th century, with τοπο-, combining form of Gk. τόπος (tópos) ‘place’
- Eng. ethnonym /ˈɛθ.nə.nɪm/ ~ Sp. etnónimo (synonym of gentilicio): ‘the name of a people or ethnic group’ (AHD); coined first in English in the 1960s; from Gk. ἔθνος (éthnos) ‘a company’ and later ‘a people, nation’ (the combining form ethn(o)‑ is used in other words such as ethnography)
- Eng. acronym /ˈæ.kɹə.nɪm/ ~ Sp. acrónimo (synonym of siglas) ‘a word formed from the initial letters of other words (e.g. laser, Aids)’ (COED); coined first in German in the early 20th century; found in English in the 1940s; acro‑ is from Gr. ἀκρο- combining form of ἄκρος ‘a tip, point, extremity, peak, summit’
Another common word that contain this morpheme is Eng. anonymous ~ Sp. anónimo/a, adjectives that mean primarily ‘not identified by name; of unknown identity’, as well as ‘having no individual or unusual features’ (COED). They are loanwords from Lat. anōnymus, which is a loanword from Gk. ἀνώνυµος, formed with the privative prefix ἀν ‘without’.
Although, as we saw, the word name /ˈneɪ̯m/ is patrimonial (not borrowed), English has also borrowed a descendant of Latin nōmen, namely the word noun /ˈnaʊ̯n/, which was taken in the 14th century from Anglo-Norman French. English noun is used in grammar to refer to ‘a word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things (common noun), or to name a particular one of these (proper noun)’ (COED). The reason for calling these words nouns is that in the Latin grammatical tradition a noun was called nomen substantivum ‘self-existing name’. That is also the source of the Spanish equivalent word in Spanish grammar, namely sustantivo, taken from the second part of that phase, not the first one. However, the word nombre is also used in some contexts to refer to nouns, as in nombre común ‘common noun’ (lit. ‘common name’) and nombre propio ‘proper noun’ (lit. ‘own name’).[iii] In other words, Sp. nombre can translate either name or noun.
The word name refers to ‘a word or term used for identification’ (Wikipedia) or ‘a word or set of words by which someone or something is known, addressed, or referred to’ (COED). And, as we saw in the definition of noun, a name can refer to a single thing or individual, which is a proper noun, or to a category of things or individuals, a common noun. Thus, the noun ship is the name for any ‘large seagoing boat’ (among other things) (COED), which is a category of things (a common noun). We are in the habit of giving these names to categories of things in our surroundings, though some languages seem to be able to tolerate not having a name for less common things better than others. Particular individuals or members of a category have individual names (proper nouns). So, for instance, a particular ship can have its own name, such as Titanic. We tend to name ships, and even boats, but for some reason not automobiles (or trees, for that matter), though some people do name their cars, somewhat facetiously. We also typically name pets and other animals with which we have a relationship, such as large zoo animals, like tigers (though probably not snakes).
The branch of lexicography that studies proper names goes by the name of onomastics, onomástica in Spanish, a word derived (shortened) from the Greek phrase ὀνομαστική [ἐπιστήμη] (onomastiké [epistéme]), ‘[knowledge] about naming’. This word is derived from the Greek word ὄνομα (onoma) ‘name’ that we have just discussed.[iv] The study of the proper names of human beings is known as anthroponomastics (or anthroponymy), antroponimia in Spanish. Finally, the name for the study of place names is toponymy, or toponomastics (Sp. toponimia).
In this chapter we are going to look at the origin of a number of typical Spanish and English proper names, including first names and last names, as well as hypocorisms or pet names. We will pay particular attention to names that are cognate in both of these languages and many of them are, in particular first names, since they are often derived from other languages, such as Latin, Greek, or Hebrew.
 Anthropologists distinguish different types of names for ethnic groups depending on whether it’s the name they give themselves or the name outsiders give them. Thus an Eng. autonym ~ Sp. autónimo or Eng. endonym ~ Sp. endónimo is ‘a name used by a group or category of people to refer to themselves or their language, as opposed to a name given to them by other groups’ (e.g. Deutsche for ‘German’). The prefix auto‑ ‘self’ comes ultimately from Gk. αὐτός (autós) ‘self’ and endo‑ ‘inside’ comes ultimately from Gk. ἔνδον (éndon) ‘inner; internal’. The word for a name outsiders give to a people is Eng. exonym ~ Sp. exónimo, e.g. Eng. Spain in an exonym for España. This word was formed with the prefix exo‑ ‘outside’ (opposite of endo‑), from Gk. ἔξω (éxō) ‘outer, external’. A recently coined synonym of ethnonym in English is demonym ‘a name for an inhabitant or native of a specific place that is derived from the name of the place’, e.g. American from America, δῆμος (dêmos) ‘people’.
The traditional word to refer to the name of a people in Spanish is gentilicio, a noun derived from an identical adjective which is a borrowing from the Latin adjective gentilicĭus or gentilitĭus ‘belonging to a particular Roman gens (tribe, clan, house); of a people, nation, group’, from which came the phrase nōmen gentīlicium ‘the name designating a Roman citizen as a member of a particular gens; a gentile name’. However, the noun gentilicio is not used just for ethnic groups, but for groups based on residence. Thus, in Spanish, madrileño is the gentilicio of people from Madrid. English has a (semi-)cognate of Sp. gentilicio, namely gentilic (formed in English from Lat. gentīl‑is plus the suffix ‑ic), which is primarily an adjective meaning ‘tribal, racial, national’ in the 19th century (when first coined, in the 17th century it meant something more like ‘heathen, pagan’), but which has also been used as a noun synonymous with ethnomym. This word is less common than its Spanish counterpart.
[iii] The words Eng. adjective and Sp. adjetivo, are derived from Latin adjectivum, which is short for nomen adjectivum, literally meaning ‘name thrown next to’. The words Eng. pronoun and Sp. pronombre, come from Lat. prōnōmen, lit. prō ‘instead of’ + nōmen ‘name’, which is a calque of A.Gk. ἀντωνυμία (antōnumía). Cf. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/adjective, https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pronomen#Latin