Ownership of Names (was Re: Public identifiers and topic maps)

John Cowan cowan at locke.ccil.org
Mon Sep 28 20:45:41 BST 1998

W. Eliot Kimber wrote:

> So I maintain my assertion that names, not just name spaces, are ownable
> things.

The difficulty is that there are so many names that are public domain;
their meaning is settled by tacit agreement among the users, not by
registration.  (This does not mean that the *referent* is necessarily
in the public domain.)

For example, the name "Spencertown, New York" is not registered anywhere.
Spencertown is a part of the Town of Austerlitz ("Towns" in New York
State and New England are roughly what is called "townships" elsewhere
in the U.S.:  registered land units larger than a county).  But it
is custom alone that says what is, and what is not, Spencertown.

Nevertheless, it makes sense as a topic of conversation.  "I am going
to Spencertown" is intelligible even though Spencertown is not
subject to precise definition.  How shall we handle names of this sort?

John Cowan	http://www.ccil.org/~cowan		cowan at ccil.org
	You tollerday donsk?  N.  You tolkatiff scowegian?  Nn.
	You spigotty anglease?  Nnn.  You phonio saxo?  Nnnn.
		Clear all so!  'Tis a Jute.... (Finnegans Wake 16.5)

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