The People’s Names Research Network (PNRN) is a newly established international network of social scientists and others interested in the study of personal names. It was founded by Jane Pilcher in 2021. New members are very much welcomed, as are ideas for the development of the network.
Read on for our mission statement, and to meet our members. If you are interested in joining our network or finding out more about it, please use this form to get in touch. You might also want to follow our Twitter account: @names_network.
“Personal names are core components of identities. Their study informs understandings of the construction, communication and negotiation of unique (self, and/or civil-legal), and of shared (familial, and/or socio-cultural) identities.
The social science of personal names analyses names as linguistic symbols, and examines the intersections of people’s names with complex and diverse social, cultural, political and psychological processes and contexts.
Through a critical examination of what names are, and how and why names matter for people’s identities, well-being, relationships, experiences and opportunities, the social science of personal names promotes social and democratic inclusion and transformation at global, national and local levels.”
Emilia Aldrin, Halmstad University, Sweden
My research interests centre around social positioning and identity creation through naming. I have studied for example parents choice of first names for their children as an act of identity, name choices in multilingual families, gendered patterns in name innovations, teenagers positioning through usernames, the effects of name based stereotypes in school assessment, and name use in educational materials as representation of society.
Kathryn Almack, University of Hertfordshire, UK
As a family sociologist, I am interested in naming choices and decision making and what it can reveal about issues of family identity, best interests of the child and the relative positioning of, and negotiations between, biological and social parents. I have written about this in relation to lesbian parent couples having children in the context of their relationship and making decisions about their children’s surnames. The negotiations and working out of family lives involved for lesbian parent couples made all the more explicit, and thus more visible, some of the more common processes undertaken by all families.
Ivona Barešová, Palacký University Olomouc, Czech Republic
I have been mostly working on various aspects of Japanese given names, including the recent phenomenon of non-gender-specific names. I enjoy exploring how names reflect the period in which they were bestowed – the values, needs, wishes and aspirations of the parents, and various contemporary events. Recently I have been also working on some comparative analyses of Japanese and Taiwanese names and naming practices.
Francesco Cerchiaro, Center for Sociological Research, KU Leuven, Belgium
I am a cultural sociologist with a specific interest in the intersection of family, migration and religion. I came across the study of names during my research on Christian-Muslim families in Italy, France and Belgium. Although mixed couples are often interpreted as a marker of the gradual loosening of traditional ties, naming practices, on the contrary, show parents’ attempt to pass down their racial, ethnic and faith backgrounds. Moreover, naming practices open up a new perspective to analyse how partners mediate with the expectations of the family of origin and with the social context characterised by a growing islamophobia.
Thomas Ditye, Sigmund Freud University, Austria
Together with my colleague Lisa Welleschik I am interested in the psychological mechanisms of the inability to call others by their personal names. Concerned individuals report to experience anxieties and emotional stress in situations in which calling someone by their name is intended. Our data show that the problem is getting more severe the closer the relationship, linking it to identity and attachment. We have started referring to this condition by “alexinomia” which means “no words for names” and are currently exploring the topic using quantitative and qualitative research methods.
Francis T. McAndrew, Knox College, USA
I am an evolutionary social psychologist who studies “namesaking,” which is the naming of a child after a parent or other relative. I am specifically interested in how namesaking is employed as a strategy for advertising personal and group identity, for optimally positioning a child within the historical and political framework of the kinship group, and for bonding fathers more strongly to their children. I am also interested in how namesaking and birth order interact in the formation of stereotypes about the personalities of namesaked individuals.
Karen Pennesi, University of Western Ontario, Canada
I began my research on names by investigating the experiences of people whose names do not fit into the legal, institutional and conventional frameworks for the structure, spelling and pronunciation of names in Canada. As symbols of identity, I explore how names influence self-perception and the unequal treatment of others. Given how names are especially important to social integration and belonging, I have published recommendations for treating names respectfully in a linguistically and culturally diverse society. I am currently developing a critical theoretical approach to public discourses in which names serve as objects for displaying stances toward immigrants, Indigenous people, and other racialized groups.
Jane Pilcher, Nottingham Trent University, UK
I am a sociologist and use names to analyse, understand and deconstruct identities and inequalities. I am interested in naming practices in terms of identities and bodies, and in relation to greater diversity and flexibility in contemporary gender identities and family relationships. My current projects include the pronunciation of names in higher education in the context of culturally diverse student identities, names and naming in adoption, and long term trends in name changing via an analysis of enrolled deed polls.
Xiaoying Qi, Australia Catholic University, Australia
I am a sociologist. In conducting research on transformations of family life and family structure in contemporary China [see Qi, Xiaoying (2021) Remaking Families in Contemporary China, Oxford University Press], I came across an emerging surnaming practice. This is the provision of the mother’s surname to her child, rather than the father’s. What appears to be a demonstration of feminist power, the practice in fact operates to preserve the patriarchal line of a daughter-only family. Through development of the concept of ‘veiled patriarchy’ I demonstrate how surnaming is influenced by a number of factors, including inter-generational relations, gender cultures, and the power of property within and between families. I also examine the emotional dimension of surnaming, which is under-researched in this sparsely examined sociological space.
Peyman Ghassemi Pour Sabet, Curtin University, Australia
My interest in onomastics lies in the link between socio-political changes and changes they cause in the naming practice in society. Being more than just a personal choice, naming can manifest the socio-political inclinations of any society. Any significant changes in these inclinations will bring about changes in the naming practice too. The current research project I am contributing to is a study of the link between changes in Chinese given names and social changes over a period of 200 years.
Rachael Robnett, University of Nevada, USA
I am a psychologist and in my research I am interested in links between marriage traditions and the decisions people make about surnames.
I am a licensed clinical psychologist studying the experiences of name-based microaggressions within racial and cultural minority populations in the United States. “Name-based microaggressions” constitute a specific category of microaggressions that capture the subtle discriminatory comments that minority individuals experience due to their first and last names of cultural origin. Examples of name-based microaggressions include: assignment of an unwanted nickname, assumptions and biases about an individual based on their name, and teasing from peers and educators due to cultural aspects of a name. My research uncovered the mental health impact of name-based microaggressions and the coping mechanisms that minority populations utilize to combat these discriminatory experiences. It also provides treatment recommendations for mental health professionals and educators who are working with minority individuals with names of ethnic origin.
Elizabeth Suter, University of Denver, USA