Organisation names

Introduction and terminology

In contrast to names of geographical entities (toponyms) or proper names of people (anthroponyms), names of organisations form a peripheral, rather young, and little researched phenomenon in linguistics. Names such as Trier (< Latin Augusta Treverorum), Wien (< Latin Vindobona) or Gerhardt Fuchs (< Ger-hart ‘spear-hard’ + Fuchs ‘fox; i.e. red-haired’) developed over centuries or even millennia. They are the results of an unintended process, which mirrors both the language history and the historical events of a country. Nubling, Fahlbusch, and Heuser (2012: 44) say: “Toponyms such as town names, mountain names and names of water bodies, but also family names, consist of ossified definite descriptions, which have gradually narrowed to this one object and are finally ossified. This is a gradual process of proprialisation [...].”

The origin of names such as BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke [Bavarian motor works]), WKO (Wirtschaftskammer Osterreich [Austrian Chamber of Commerce]) or WTO (World Trade Organisation) is completely different. These are the result of an intentional naming process. Such names, consciously created by people for institutions which themselves were created by people, are designated here with the term organisation names. Organisation names are omnipresent in contemporary communication, which can no longer do without them. They are used to identify, distinguish and orientate in economic, cultural and social life. From an onomastic viewpoint, the collective term organisation names is a pragmatic solution intended to reduce the two classes of institution names and company names to a common denominator. In onomastics, these two classes are generally ascribed to the superordinate name class of ergonyms (from Greek ergon ‘work, product’), together with product names, names of art works, buildings and modes of transport (cf. Brendler 2004; Debus 2012; Nubling, Fahlbusch, and Heuser 2012). Vasil'eva (2004: 605) adopts the term institution names and criticises the fact that ergonym is used with two different meanings, on the one hand denoting a working, acting, operating “entity”, on the other the result or product of its activity.

The terminology selected here tries to take into account this justified criticism of the ambiguous use of the existing term by choosing instead organisation names, especially as this term allows the onymic status to be put into better perspective for the first of the two meanings above. In contrast to the class of product names, which linguists cannot agree whether to classify as proper names or common nouns, organisation names are unanimously seen as proper names as they undoubtedly achieve unique reference. Organisation names are the linguistic result of a reference-fixation process when forming or - as prescribed by law - registering a company in the commercial register. An examination of organisation names on the scale of individuality (cf. Szczepaniak 2011:345; Nubling, Fahlbusch, and Heuser 2012: 97) shows that they exhibit the features [+human], [+agentive], [+animate], [±contoured], [-countable], and [±material]. These factors confer a high degree of individuality, distinctiveness, perception and identifiability. Nubling, Fahlbusch, and Heuser (2012: 277) have pointed out an important difference between company names in the classical sense and institution names that derives from the different objectives of the respective naming processes. Companies are private firms, which primarily carry on their business activity with the goal of maximising profit. By contrast, institutions operate mostly as non-profit organisations, also generally covering costs, but primarily pursuing political, social or cultural goals. Nubling, Fahlbusch, and Heuser (2012: 277) rightly state: “Different name functions result from this: advertising effectiveness, on the one hand, and factual information on the other. In our opinion, these substantial differences make a separation of the two classes unavoidable.” For this reason, the structures and naming motives of company and institution names will to some extent be examined separately.

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