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

W. Eliot Kimber eliot at dns.isogen.com
Tue Sep 29 18:07:02 BST 1998

At 11:27 AM 9/29/98 -0400, John Cowan wrote:
>W. Eliot Kimber wrote:
>> Again, I don't agree. How is "-//John Cowan//NONSGML KJV John 3:14//EN" any
>> different from "-//Some Name//NONSGML 12345ABCD//EN" if they both happen to
>> be mapped to the Bible verse John 3:14?  They're just arbitrary names.
>True in principle, not true in fact.  The man who uses the word
>"glory" in "There's glory for you!" to mean "There's a nice knock-down
>[i.e. compelling] argument for you!" is likely to be called, or even
>to *be*, a Humpty Dumpty.

>Names have *content*, contrary to theory.  To use an example I have used
>elsewhere, you may not know which dog the name "Fido" refers to, but you
>know (if you understand English onomastics at all) that it refers to some
>dog.  Likewise, "Jane" refers to some female human.

I think you're inappropriately conflating names for beings with names for
objects. Names we, as humans, give to things, have content because we use
words for them that have meaning.  But that meaning is added value--it
doesn't nothing to make the name more or less useful as an indirect pointer
to an object.  The best it can do is provide clues about what the name
might refer to, but those will be, at best, clues and they can't be
dependended upon in the general case.

Because of my cultural background, I know that "fido" is a name often used
for dogs and Jane is a name often used for female humans. I also know that
"fido" derives from "fidelis" or "fidelity", meaning "loyal", which is a
species traight of dogs, which makes "fido" an appropriate name for dogs.
But I also know that "fido" is not restricted to the naming of dogs:

[Telephone search
<http://people.yahoo.com/py/psPhoneSearch.py?Pyt=Tps&YY=627>, last name

A Fido 
Madison Hts, MI 48071-5908 

Beata S Fido 
Chicago, IL 60607 

C Fido 
Las Vegas, NV 89125 

...] (I also got 200 hits on "smith, fido")

So if you tell me: "you'll meet fido tonight", I might expect to meet your
dog, but I could just as easily meet you friend C. Fido.

So though we might embue names with meaning, we can't, in the general case,
*depend* on that meaning to predict with any certainty what the name refers
to [pop quiz: when I refer to "Manifest Destiny", do I mean the
19th-century American attitude toward the West or do I mean my sister's
hermit crab?].

So again, I don't buy it.  But see my other post for a solution to the
requirement that doesn't depend on cultural knowledge of the typical
meaning of the names used.


<Address HyTime=bibloc>
W. Eliot Kimber, Senior Consulting SGML Engineer
ISOGEN International Corp.
2200 N. Lamar St., Suite 230, Dallas, TX 75202.  214.953.0004

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