Mark Rosenfelder has edited and updated my articles and essays from the Model Languages newsletter and the former website, assembling them into the book Langmaker: Celebrating Conlangs. Available now as a Kindle or paperback from Amazon!

Here’s the third issue I ever published.

From [email protected] Fri Aug  4 12:13:39 1995
Date: 03 Aug 95 23:48:12 EDT
From: Jeffrey Henning <[email protected]>
To: BlindCopyReceiver:  ;
Subject: MODLANG 3

The newsletter discussing newly imagined words for newly imagined worlds
Volume I, Issue 3 -- July 1, 1995


Where the last issue of _Model Languages_ described in detail how to 
create model languages for generating names, this issue specifically 
elaborates on how different languages and cultures form names.

Here are some useful terms to describe the study of names:
    _onomastics_ - the study of names (in general)
    _anthroponomastics_ - the study of personal names
    _toponomastics_ - the study of place names.

Structure of Names	1
Patroynmics:  In The Name Of The Father	2
Constructing Names	3
Forming First Names First	3
Forming Family Names	4
Forming Names of Nations	5
Cultural Attitudes Towards Names	5


There are many different ways a culture can structure a name, and the 
people who speak your language may use any of the following, or a 
different way besides:

    [given name] - Jeffrey
    [given name] [family name] - Jeffrey Henning  (American)
    [family name] [given name] - Mao Ze-Dong  (Chinese)
    [given name] [occupation name] - John Smith  (English)
    [given name] [maiden name] [husband's family name] - Karen Flynn 
Henning  (American)
    [given name] [middle name] [family name] - Jeffrey Alan Henning  
    [given name] [middle name] [confirmation name] [family name] - Karen 
Lee Kristina Flynn  (Catholic Irish)
    [given name] [family name] [occupation name] - Mark Jones-the-petrol  
    [given name] [son of] [father's name] - Bjo//rnstjerne Bjo//rnson 
    [given name] [daughter of] [father's name] - Vigdi/s Finnbogado/ttir 
    [given name] [father's name + "child of"] [family name] - Mikhail 
Sergeyevich Gorbachev (Russian)
    [given name] [middle name] [maternal grandfather's family name] 
[paternal grandmother's family name] [paternal grandfather's family 
name] -- Eliana Marcia Villela Gomes Soares  (Brazilian)
    [given name] [middle name] [maternal grandfather's family name] 
[paternal grandfather's family name] [husband's mother's name]  
[husband's father's name] -- Maria Beatriz Villela Soares Veiga de 
Carualho  (Brazilian)
    [given name] [father's family name] y [mother's family name] - Jose/ 
Aguilar y Ferna/ndez  (Spanish)
    [given name] [father's family name] de [husband's father's name] - 
Mari/a A/lvarez de Aguilar  (Spanish)
    [given name] ["father of" eldest son]
    [given name] [father's given name] - Tafari Makonnen (Amharic)

This list is in no means exhaustive, with the possibility of variations 
even within a tradition.  My friend Steve and his wife recently named 
their baby Joshua Patrick Lewis LaFrance Weissman:  Joshua Patrick 
because they liked the Old and New Testament ring, Lewis after Steve's 
grandfather, LaFrance after his wife's surname, and Weissman because 
.... well, because!

Throughout much of history, when most people never traveled far from 
home, a given name sufficed, with use of a nickname in case there were 
two Davids in the village, for instance.  As people were exposed to more 
and more people, the family name was added to differentiate people, then 
the middle name was added for the same purpose.  As mass communications 
and the Internet expose people to that many more individuals, it would 
not be surprising if people begin making more prominent use of their 
middle names and begin adding extra middle names, like my friend Steve 
did for his son.

In Britain and the U.S., the first name, the given name, is the one the 
person regularly goes by.  This is not so in Germany, where many people 
go by their middle names, so that Helmut Michael Schneid is likely to be 
called Michael by his friends, not Helmut.

Of course, many Oriental languages put the family name before the given 
name, reversing the regular order of Occidental names.  Thus, Mao Ze-
Dong is known as Chairman Mao, not Chairman Ze-Dong.  (Hungarian is 
another language that puts the family name first.)

English names are unique in one respect -- no other language has a 
construct similar to the _Jr._ ("Junior") that gets appended to the 
names of boys who have the same names as their father's, so that Carl 
Glenn Henning's eponymous son is known as Carl Glenn Henning, Jr.

Some languages, such as Russian, add gender endings to the family name, 
so that it is Mr. Molotov, but Mrs. Molotova.  The Japanese routinely 
append an honorific to a person's name, such as _-san_; or _-sama_, a 
superhonorific; or _-kun_, for someone familiar or subordinate; or _-
chan_, a term of endearment reserved for children.


One of the more common elements of names is a patronymic, a reference to 
a person's father.

    English    -son        Stevenson
    Greek      -poulous    Cosmopoulus
    Irish      O'-         O'Leary
    Polish     -ski        Jaruzelski
    Scots      Mac-, Mc-   MacDougal
    Welsh      Ap          Ap Gwilym

Related to this, _Fitz-_ (as in _Fitzgerald_) is Old French for "son 
of", though it was typically used to mean "illegitimate son of".  (So 
the next time you're angry with some idiot, but your kids are listening, 
call him a "son of a Fitz".)

Amharic (which is a language of Ethiopia) no longer has a separate word 
for its patronymic, so a name is simply formed from the child's given 
name plus the father's given name (as if Robert Stevenson was just 
Robert Steven).

While English has fossilized its patronymic, so that for all we know 
Robert Louis Stevenson's father may have been named Joe, many languages 
-- including Arabic, Hebrew and Icelandic -- give a new patronymic to 
each generation.  In such a culture, Robert Louis Stevenson's son 
Jeffery would be known as Jeffery Robertson and his son Thomas would be 
known as Thomas Jefferyson, and so on, with each son give a different 
last name than his father.

The Russians use patronymics in such a way that children still have the 
same family name as their parents.  In Russian, the patronymic is the 
middle name, so Ivan's son has the middle name of Ivanovich, while 
Ivan's daughter has the middle name of Ivanovna.

The Spanish and Portuguese are more fair to the people who carry these 
children for nine months.  Both languages form last names from the 
family names of both the mother and father.  In Brazilian, the name of 
the mother precedes the father's, so that the mother of Eliana Marcia 
Villela Gomes Soares has a surname of Villela, while Eliana's father had 
the surname of Gomes Soares (Gomes being the family name of his mother).  
Spanish reverses the order, putting the name of the father first.

Related to patronymics, but different altogether, is _teknonymy_, where 
the parent is named after the child.  In Arabic, the parent would be 
known as "father of" or "mother of" the eldest son.



The story is told, perhaps apocryphally, of a tribe in Nyassaland, 
Africa, that took its names from a publisher's book catalog that had 
found its way into their hands.  The chief christened himself Oxford 
University Press.

Ox, as his friends may have called him, had chosen his name in one of 
the more unusual ways.  Typically, first names are formed from 
compounds, from saints' names, from places, from personal traits -- in 
fact, from many things other than publisher's book catalogs.

German and Celtic frequently formed compounds (and served as the basis 
for the naming vocabulary described in the June issue).  Examples of 
this style of first names include _Baldwin_, "bold friend", and 
_Gilbert_, "shining pledge".

The first name is often, especially in Britain, called the Christian 
name, because after the Norman Conquest the first name was frequently 
taken from that of a Christian saint (Matthew, Mark, Luke and others).  
Other traditions would name children after places (_Norton_, "from the 
northern village"; _Glenna_, "from the glen"), personal characteristics 
(Joy; Kent, "handsome"; Kevin, "kind") and even animals (I'm not going 
to mention "Dances With Wolves" again).

Arabic and Semitic, and many other languages, feature theophoric names, 
names referring to God, such as Arabic _Abd Alla-'h_, "slave of Allah", 
or Hebrew _Daniel_, "God is the judge", and _Michael_, "God-like".  
Anglo-Saxon names also referred to God, as in _Godfrey_ referring to 
"God's peace" (and surviving in the more common name descended from 
_Godfrey_, _Jeffrey_).  The Anglo-Saxons had not always been Christian, 
and older names made frequent use of _Alf-_, "elf", the elves being 
divine spirits, so that _Alfreda_ meant "counselled by elves" and 
_Elvira_ meant "elf-like" (making it a suitable name for the host of a 
horror-movie theater).

Since the elves, if not appeased, might take a baby and leave a 
changling in its place, it was hoped that a child named after elves 
would be left alone by them.  Other cultures take the fear of evil 
spirits further.  If a mother had already lost a child to disease, she 
might be likely to name her next child after something vile, to keep 
evil spirits away.  So her baby might be given an _apotropaic_ name like 
"Ugly" or "Misshapen".

A name like "Ugly" would not be accepted in many European countries.  
France, Germany and Scandinavia all have lists of approved first names;  
a baby must be given an approved name, or the child will not be legally 
recognized.  (Perhaps a superstitious Norwegian will name his child 
"Illegal" in the hopes of keeping those modern evil spirits, lawyers, 

Incidentally, many languages do not have separate names for men and 
women, as if all names were like the English neuter names of _Chris_, 
_Alex_, _Lee_ and _Kelly_.  Other languages often use regular 
inflections for grammatical gender to indicate the gender of names, so 
that _John_ and _Jane_, for instance, which are both from the same 
Hebrew name, are represented as _Johann_ and _Johanna_ in German, 
_Giovanna_ and _Giovanni_ in Italian and _Juana_ and _Juan_ in Spanish.


In America, melting pot of the world, there are over 1.2 million last 
names, according to an analysis of the Social Security rolls.  In an 
analysis of my own business address book, consisting of 4,240 U.S. 
computer professionals, I found 2,936 unique names, ranging from _Abate_ 
to _Zytniak_.  Choosing any individual at random revealed a 48% chance 
that no one else in the address book had the same last name as them -- 
this is simply an amazing diversity, representing the hundreds of 
cultures who have seen citizens migrate to the United States.

Koreans, in contrast, have just a few principal last names, such as Kim, 
Pak and Yi, though they have different spelling variations (Yi is also 
spelled Li, Lee, I and Rhee).  Because ancestry is so important to 
Koreans, they have been culturally adverse to changing their last names;  
in fact, family names are so important that women do not change their 
family names upon getting married.  As a result, Koreans have preserved 
the last names of the three major families that first settled the 
present-day Korean peninsula.

Like the Koreans, the Welsh also have few family names.  So to tell 
apart all the people named Jones, Price or Evans, the Welsh tend to 
distinguish people with 'by-names', so that Welsh _Mark Jones-the-
petrol_ is distinguished from _Mark Jones-the-gardener_.

Many family names derived from such a casual use of referring to people 
by their occupations:  farmer, weaver (e.g., Webster), baker.  One of 
the most prestigious occupations in ancient times was that of the 
blacksmith, who forged swords into ploughshares in time of peace, and 
pikes into pole-arms in time of war.  In fact, blacksmiths were among 
the most influential members of community, which is why the most common 
family name in many cultures is "Smith":

    Arabic              _Haddad_
    English             _Smith_, _Smythe_, et. al.
    French              _La Fe\vre_, _La Forge_
    German              _Schmidt_
    Hungarian           _Kova/cs_
    Portuguese          _Ferreiro_
    Russian             _Kuznetsov_
    Spanish             _Ferna/ndez_, _Herna/ndez_
Besides occupations and patronymics, other sources of family names 
include places (Henning, for instances, means "the meadow filled with 
larks"), colors (White, Brown, Green) and virtues (Good).


Many groups of people (races and nations) see themselves as "the people" 
of the world.  If they are isolated from other tribes or realms, they 
are even more likely to name themselves "the people", as the Innuit 
(Eskimos), the Bantu (an African tribe) and the Illeni Indians (for whom 
Illinois is named) did.  The Chinese were chauvinistic about it;  their 
name is derived from the dynasty of Chin, with Chin being the word for 

The more different realms a group of people are aware of the more likely 
they are to name themselves after the place where they live:  the 
Canadians live in Canada, the English live in England, the Germans live 
in Germany.  But the Jews live in Israel (the name of one of their 
greatest ancestors).

If your imaginary people are imaginative enough to call themselves 
something besides "the people" or "the people of [place]", they will 
nonetheless give themselves a flattering name, something like "the 
people of God" or "the blessed people" or "the people of [person]", 
where the person is any suitably noble patriarch or matriarch.

So how did the English get to be called the English?  Well, in the fifth 
and sixth centuries AD, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes migrated from 
northern Germany to southern Britain.  The Angles' name was related to 
their word _angel_, "hook", and is assumed to refer to hook-shaped 
stretches of the German coast.  By the ninth century, _Englaland_ was 
used to describe the island all three tribes had settled, and the form 
of the name was quickly shortened (not by happenstance, but by 
haplology) to _England_.


     "No one knows a man's true name but himself and his namer.  He may 
choose at length to tell it to his brother, or his wife, or his friend, 
yet even those few will never use it where any third person may hear it.  
In front of other people, they will, like other people, call him by his 
use-name, his nickname -- such a name as Sparrowhawk, and Vetch, and 
Ogion which means 'fir-cone'.  If plain men hide their true name from 
all but a few they love and trust utterly, so much more must wizardly 
men, being more dangerous, and more endangered.  Who knows a man's name, 
holds that man's life in his keeping." 
- _A Wizard of Earthsea_, Ursula K. Le Guin.

Names are invested with a power.  Many cultures have private names, or 
true names, that are only to be used by family and close friends, with a 
public name used regularly instead.  The fear is that a wizard or witch 
will learn their true name and so be able to cast a spell over them.

In Mu/harafic, the model language spoken by desert nomads in an 
exceptionally dry science fiction novel a friend and I once wrote, each 
person's name exerts power over them.  The most powerful person in the 
clan is the watersinger, who names each child upon ascension to 
adulthood, and therefore knows the names of everyone in the clan.  The 
watersinger can declare a person outcast by announcing his true name to 
everyone.  Alternatively, a person can _gnomifesi_, "confide one's true 
name to another", to give themselves in marriage to their partner.

The Todas of India are not afraid to have their names known, but they 
will not themselves pronounce their own names.  When an individual is 
introduced to someone new, she asks a companion to say her name.

As David Crystal writes in _The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language_, 
"People in the 20th century may find it easy to dismiss such attitudes, 
but things have not greatly changed.  It is unlikely that popular 
opinion would ever allow a new ship to be named _Titanic_."



"Nobody believes me when I say that my long book [The Lord of the Rings] 
is an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to 
my personal aesthetic might seem real.  But it is true.  An enquirer 
(among many) asked what the L.R. was all about, and whether it was an 
allegory.  And I said it was an effort to create a situation in which a 
common greeting would be _elen si-'la lu-'menn omentielmo_ ['A star 
shines on the hour of our meeting'], and that the phrase long antedated 
the book."
- Letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to Christopher Tolkien, Feb. 21, 1958

Model languages come in many different sizes and types.  You can 
classify a model language both for its scope and for who is intended to 
speak it.  


For different scales, a model language might be used for jargon, names, 
proverbs, conversations or literature.  Each layer of complexity 
requires a more detailed lexicon and grammar, ranging from a jargon 
consisting of a handful of words and a way of forming plurals to a 
complex language that can be used to carry on a conversation or support 
a literature.

Most of the model languages that have gained recognition have been 
intended for use as true languages, but many other model languages of 
smaller scale exist within works of fiction.  Few writers can create an 
entire language, as Tolkien or Anthony Burgess did;  few writers need 
that much detail in the first place.

When trying to decide what model language to create, you should not be 
intimidated by the magnitude of the works accomplished by Tolkien or 
Burgess -- that would be like fearing to write a short story because you 
had read _War and Peace_.

Creating a language for jargon simply means you are only interested in 
having a few words to convey the flavor of another culture.  A model 
jargon is rarely even dignified with a name, since it is so small.  A 
science-fiction author might coin a few words for unusual aliens and new 
technologies.  For instance, I do not recall much linguistically about 
Larry Niven's _Ringworld_, other than to remember that he coined the 
word _tang_, "there ain't no justice", as the curse word used by his 
characters;  no doubt he had coined other words to reflect the 
technology and topography of Ringworld and to enhance its ambience.


Besides classifying a model language by its use, you can classify a 
language by whether the people who speak it are alive today or are an 
imagined people of the past or future.  A model language might be 
intended to represent the language of a people who lived in the remote 
past.  It might be intended as a linguistic experiment, showing how a 
language might have evolved if the past had been changed (alternate 
past).  A model language is commonly something intended for use in the 
present, such as Esperanto.  Finally, it might be set in a future world, 
such as Burgess' Nadsat or Marc Okrand's Klingon.


The following chart illustrates one way of classifying some popular 
languages.  Most of those languages listed under "Present" and 
"Literature" are meant as auxiliary languages or international 
languages, designed to be learned as a common second language.

                Past           History     Present        Future
Literature    | Quenya                     New Norwegian  Nadsat
              |                            Esperanto
              |                            Basic English
              |                            Volapu_:k
              |                            et. al.
Conversations |                                           Klingon
Proverbs      |                                           Yilane
              |                                           Fremen
Names         | Hobbit English
Jargon        |


What follows are some ideas drawn from across the above classification 
matrix, to encourage you to create your own model language.


A naming language is a model language created primarily for the purpose 
of naming people, places and things in an imaginary country or world.  
It is the simplest type of language to create, since it doesn't need a 
detailed grammar.  The last issue provided an overview on how to create 
such a language.


Science fiction contains a sub-genre of literature known as the 
alternate history, which postulates worlds that never existed, but might 
have.  What if William the Conquerer, instead of Harold, had fallen at 
Hastings?  What if the French Quebecois and their English neighbors had 
assimilated?  What if the Moors had not stopped at Spain but had 
conquered England?  Alternate universes such as these suggest languages 
that might have emerged but didn't -- these alternate universes are ripe 
for the creation of model languages.

If William the Conqueror and his Norman troops had failed to conquer the 
Anglo-Saxons, the English language would have taken a different course 
altogether. English would have retained much more of its vocabulary, 
which instead was largely displaced by Norman French.  Since an Anglo-
English would have retained much of its vocabulary, it might have proven 
more resistant to borrowing foreign terms.  Anglo-English syntax would 
depend more on inflections, for English lost the Anglo-Saxon 
inflectional endings under pressure from Norman French, which had a 
different system of inflections all together.  Anglo-English would be a 
fascinating language indeed.  (If anyone out there wants to be the Ivar 
Aasen of English, let me know.)

If the French- and English-speaking people of Quebec had been less 
interested in preserving their own backgrounds and more interested in 
building a community together, a new Gallic-English might have evolved 
as the two languages merged.  This new language would have an even 
simpler grammar than English, as speakers concentrated on the 
distinctions that French and English had in common.

The Moors expanded from North Africa to conquer much of the Iberian 
Peninsula.  Had al-Mansur been able to forge a kingdom that would have 
survived his death (rather than degenerate into quarelling taifas), the 
Moors might have tried to invade England, giving rise to a Moorish 

Alternative languages are fun to think about, and you should always be 
able to come up with one moor version of English.


The model linguist need not stop at the past or imagined alternate 
pasts.  He can move to the future, postulating languages that might come 
to exist.

For instance, the Roman Empire spread Latin across Europe.  As the 
Empire declined, the farflung local speakers of Latin slowly changed the 
language they had learned from Rome.  As a result, Latin evolved into 
Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian,  Sardinian, Catalan, 
Rhaetian, Occitan and Dalamation (now extinct).  A different type of 
empire has risen today, the cultural empire of English.  English is now 
spoken as the mother tongue in Britain, the United States, Canada, 
Guyana, Australia and New Zealand.  Over time, the dialects of English 
spoken in these areas may diverge as much as Italian, Spanish and French 
diverged from Latin, giving rise to new languages, based on English, but 
different from it.  English has already given rise to new Englishes, 
such as Krio (an African creole) and Singlish (Singaporean English).

The great thing about constructing a future English is that you already 
know English!  You have already mastered its vocabulary and grammar and 
can postulate how you would like to see those evolve in a future 
descendant of English.


Anyone who has traveled extensively through foreign countries wishes 
there was one language she could learn that people everywhere could 
speak.  English comes close, but carries with it a cultural baggage that 
many find oppressive or offensive.  From Volapu_:k to Esperanto to 
Interlingua, people have struggled to create languages to make it easier 
to bring people together.  Nor are these efforts in the past.  For 
instance, Phil Hunt is creating Eurolang, which he hopes to position as 
the common language of the European Union.

It is easy to think of situations where simplified bridge languages 
would be beneficial to people -- to Quebec and to the U.S./Mexico 
border, to give two North American examples.  While the practical steps 
required to see that an auxiliary language establishes a significant 
community of speakers are daunting, you can always choose to create such 
a language as simply a fascinating linguistic exercise, rather than a 
new social movement.

The possibilities for model languages are endless.  Timothy Miller has 
been entertaining CONLANG subscribers with his Monkey Language, and he 
is also developing a Ferengi language for Star Trek fans (the Ferengi 
are the big-eared aliens, in case you didn't know).  The possibilities 
are endless, so get working on your language today!


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Contents copyright 1995 Jeffrey Henning.  All rights reserved.