Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 573–627 | Cite as

On the linguistic complexity of proper names

  • Ora MatushanskyEmail author
Open Access
Research Article


While proper names in argument positions have received a lot of attention, this cannot be said about proper names in the naming construction, as in “Call me Al”. I argue that in a number of more or less familiar languages the syntax of naming constructions is such that proper names there have to be analyzed as predicates, whose content mentions the name itself (cf. “quotation theories”). If proper names can enter syntax as predicates, then in argument positions they should have a complex structure, consisting of a determiner and its restriction, like common nouns (cf. “definite description theories of proper names”). Further consideration of the compositional semantics of proper names in the naming construction also shows that they have another argument slot, that of the naming convention. As a result, we will be able to account for the indexicality of proper names in argument positions and provide compositional semantics of complex and modified proper names (e.g., the famous detective Sherlock Holmes).


Proper names Description theories Quotation theories Naming construction Small clauses ECM verbs Change-of-state 



I am very grateful to Alec Marantz, Barry Schein, Björn Rothstein, Daniel Büring, Danny Fox, David Pesetsky, Eddy Ruys, Francois Recanati, Gennaro Chierchia, Irene Heim, Jim Higginbotham, Kai von Fintel, Philippe Schlenker, Sylvain Bromberger, and Tania Ionin for the discussion and suggestions, to the many linguists who provided data on various more or less exotic languages and will be individually named (though not called or baptized) below. I would also like to thank the audiences at NELS 35, Sinn und Bedeutung 9, UCLA syntax and semantics seminar, MIT syntax-semantics reading group, and seminars of volet VP de la Fédération TUL (CNRS/Université Paris 8), Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main, Institut Jean Nicod, PALMYR and CRISSP for their attention and helpful comments, and, last but not the least, the three anonymous reviewers of Linguistics and Philosophy, whose detailed comments greatly improved this paper.

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© The Author(s) 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UiL OTS/Utrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.CNRS/Université Paris-8Saint Denis CedexFrance

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