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Animals 2011, 1(1), 116-125;

What’s in a Name?—Consequences of Naming Non-Human Animals

Institute of Language, Literature and Culture, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
Received: 7 January 2011 / Accepted: 13 January 2011 / Published: 19 January 2011
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Simple Summary

History teaches us that the act of naming can have various consequences for that which is named. Thus, applying labels as well as both specific and generic names to non-human animals can have consequences for our relationships to them, as various examples show. The issues of whether and how we should name other animals should therefore be given careful consideration.


The act of naming is among the most basic actions of language. Indeed, it is naming something that enables us to communicate about it in specific terms, whether the object named is human or non-human, animate or inanimate. However, naming is not as uncomplicated as we may usually think and names have consequences for the way we think about animals (human and non-human), peoples, species, places, things etc. Through a blend of history, philosophy and representational theory—and using examples from, among other things, the Bible, Martin Luther, colonialism/imperialism and contemporary ways of keeping and regarding non-human animals—this paper attempts to trace the importance of (both specific and generic) naming to our relationships with the non-human. It explores this topic from the naming of the animals in Genesis to the names given and used by scientists, keepers of companion animals, media etc. in our societies today, and asks the question of what the consequences of naming non-human animals are for us, for the beings named and for the power relations between our species and the non-human species and individuals we name. View Full-Text
Keywords: animal; nonhuman animal; naming; animal names; labels; representations; power relations animal; nonhuman animal; naming; animal names; labels; representations; power relations
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Borkfelt, S. What’s in a Name?—Consequences of Naming Non-Human Animals. Animals 2011, 1, 116-125.

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