Langues et civilisations
à tradition orale

          CNRS           INSHS home          Other web sites          
cnrs paris3 inalco paris3 paris3
Intranet Lacito français

  Home > Research at the Lacito > Naming, terming and kin names
1   2  follow

Research programs (Archives)



Naming, terming and kin names (terms of address, terms of reference, and teknonyms)



Program chairs : Isabelle Leblic & Bertrand Masquelier
  • Participants : C. Barraud (CASE-LASEMA) - A. Cadoret (GRASS) - J. Carle (doctoral student EHESS - Center for African Studies) - I. Daillant (EREA) - J. De Largy Healy (doctoral student EHESS) - G. Drettas (LMS) - B.-F. Gérard (IRD) - J.-P. Goulard (EREA) - S. Graff (doctoral student UMB Strasbourg) - A. Guillou (CASE-LASEMA) - D. Karadimas (LAS) - N. Krowolski (CASE-LASEMA) - S. Laligant (Univ. de Tours) - S. Lallemand (CASE-LASEMA) - M. Lebarbier - C. Legrand (post-doc LAS) - F. Leguennec-Coppens - C. Leguy (Univ. Paris V) - S. Leroy (MoDyCo) - D. Monnerie (UMB Strasbourg) - V. Randa - S. Ruelland - J.-L. Siran (LAU) - C. Taine-Cheikh

Seminars 2005-2009 see more


Ethnographic works on diverse cultural zones around the world often contain studies on the definition of peoples and what they are called. This scientific tradition has been especially present in France, starting with Mauss's seminal work. More recently, the ethnosciences have extended the study of naming and classification to nature. In numerous societies, the act of naming natural and cultural objects is organized following several different modalities.

Both nationally and internationally, most projects devoted to the study of naming are carried out within the framework of either structuralism (Lévi-Strauss), structural-functionalism or culturalism (Geertz).

The influence of some of these orientations is still apparent today (structuralism, Zonabend, Macdonald), others were abandoned under criticism, and recent innovations seem linked to approaches more centered on the contextual usage of various naming registers (Zetlin), even though these contextual approaches call upon ideas which were proposed in the 1960s (cf. Goodenough's contextual analyses).

The dividing line between the structuralist and pragmatic approaches can be seen in the gathering and processing of ethnographic data. Structuralists highlight autonomy and diversity within each cultural and social community, the naming and name systems along with their underlying logic; the pragmatic approach on the other hand extracts the organization and regularities in exchanges and communication situations. Geertz for example, while accounting for various symbolic orderings in the functional alignment of names, never mentions in his works how the Balinese actually use the names (see Moerman).

Contextual and pragmatic approaches are certainly more conducive to highlighting people's plural identities and therefore the dynamic nature of naming, biographic temporality, uncertainty in one's dealings with oneself and with others. Variations in a given person's name, linked to the different areas of social organization, force the investigator to formulate hypotheses which are not based on a person's uniqueness.

How can the structuralist and the transactionalist and pragmatic approaches be reconciled? The attempt can be seen in several recent works using various paradigms (namely centered on the study of usage, see Bourdieu). One should note that contextual type approaches do not, contrary to appearances, entail that only the study of contingent situations is privileged. In fact, they are just as capable of taking the cognitive and universal dimensions of naming into account as are structuralist approaches.

Our hypothesis is that by combining rather than opposing the two perspectives (structuralist and pragmatic), existing typologies could be modified to bring out the logic behind the act of naming and, at the same time, determine the elements which are meaningful for the actors involved.

We propose to enact this hypothesis by applying it to various study locations, in the Caribbean, the Amazon, Central America, Oceania, Europe, taking into account communities of hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists… as well as communities living in urban and industrialized contexts. In the various case studies, the different facets of person naming are examined along with their contexts of kinship, social hierarchies, social categorization systems, contrasting levels of society, as well as situations linked to globalization, especially as concerns the deterritorialization of identity through migrations and how new identities are forged in one's relations to Others.

This comparative ethnography program will explore data from several research disciplines: sociology, culture, linguistics.


Bourdieu Pierre, 1972, Esquisse d'une théorie de la pratique, précédé de Trois études d'ethnologie kabyle, Paris-Genève, Droz.

Geertz Clifford, 1966. Person, Time and Conduct in Bali: an Essay in Cultural Analysis, Yale, Southeast Asia Program, Cultural Report Series, 14. [Reproduced in Geertz 1973 : 360-411] ;
1973. The Interpretation of Cultures, New York, Basic Books ;
1984. Personne, temps et comportement à Bali [translate from English by D. Paulme], Bali, éd. Gallimard.

Goodenough Ward H., 1965. Personal Names and Modes fo Address in two Oceanic Societies, in M. Spiro (ed), Context and Meaning in Cultural Anthropology, New York, Free Press : 265-276.

Lévi-Strauss Claude, 1962. La pensée sauvage, Paris, Plon, 395 p. [especially chapters 6 and 7].

Macdonald Charles, 1999. De l’anonymat au renom. Systèmes du nom personnel dans quelques sociétés d’Asie du Sud-Est (notes comparatives), in J. Massard-Vincent et S. Pauwels (eds), D’un nom à l’autre en Asie du Sud-Est. Approches ethnologiques, Paris, Karthala : 105-128.

Mauss Marcel, 1973. Sociologie et anthropologie, Paris, Presses universitaires de France. [especially §§ Une catégorie de l’esprit humain : la notion de personne, celle de "moi" (333-364), Les techniques du corps (365-388)]

Moerman Michael, 1990. Talking Culture: Ethnography and conversation analysis, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Zeitlin David, 1993. Reconstructing Kinship or the Pragmatics of Kin Talk, Man 28 (2) : 199-224.

Zonabend Françoise, 1977. Pourquoi nommer ? (Les noms de personnes dans un village français : Minot-en-Châtillonnais), L’identité. Séminaire interdisciplinaire dirigé par Claude Lévi-Strauss professeur au collège de France 1974-1975, Paris, Bernard Grasset : 257-279 ;
1979. Jeux de noms. Les noms de personne à Minot, Études rurales 74 : 51-85.

1   2 follow


Imprimer Contacter le webmestre Plan du site Crédits Accueil