The Significance of Names


  • I presented material from this paper at the Mind & Language Names Conference at the Institute of Philosophy in London, and the University of Warwick, in 2008, and, in 2009, at the LOGOS Barcelona Workshop on Singular Thought, California State University at San Bernardino, and at the philosophy of language workshop at the University of California, Riverside. I thank all who attended these talks and presentations. For suggestions, criticisms, and help thinking through these issues, warm thanks to Kent Bach, John Campbell, Manuel García-Carpintero, Tim Crane, Matthew Davidson, Sam Guttenplan, Geoff Hall, David Manley, Michael Martin, Thomas Moody, Courtney Morris, Michael Nelson, John Ramsey, François Recanati, Tony Roy, Fiora Salis, and Howard Wettstein.

Department of Philosophy, HMNSS Building, Room 1604, 900 University Avenue, Riverside, CA 92521, USA.


As a class of terms and mental representations, proper names and mental names possess an important function that outstrips their semantic and psycho-semantic functions as common, rigid devices of direct reference and singular mental representations of their referents, respectively. They also function as abstract linguistic markers that signal and underscore their referents' individuality. I promote this thesis to explain why we give proper names to certain particulars, but not others; to account for the transfer of singular thought via communication with proper names; and, more generally, to support a cognitivist, not acquaintance or instrumentalist, theory of singular thought.