Yes, it is that time of year again.
The line in the title from The Christmas Song of course doesn’t just refer to a person with the surname Frost, but the cold, white crystalline formations often called Jack Frost. For that matter, it could be a Jack Russell (a type of terrier) nipping at your — well, perhaps not nose — toes. In either case the Jacks in questions are not people. Undoubtedly there are thousands of individuals who also sport these monikers.
So what’s in a name? A label for a person, place or organization, but as we see above, a name can also be a common noun. These nouns are often based on some historical figure, of course. Whatever the origin, English clearly has a penchant for personification or anthropomorphization of non-animate, nonhuman entities. For example, what the Sam Hill is a Sam Browne? (It’s a belt — the kind with a strap across the right shoulder, usually worn by the military or police, popularly attributed to a 19th century British officer in India.)
Looking further we see that more Jacks appear in other contexts: Jack Tar (UK, a sailor), Jack Ketch (UK, death or an executioner) or John Ketch. And speaking of Johns (which can in itself be a prostitute’s customer, or in the US, a toilet), there are John Henrys or John Hancocks (one’s signature), John Dorys or Dories (fish), John Barleycorn (corn liquor), or a John Bull (an Englishman), Johnny Reb (a confederate soldier), John Doe and his feminine counterpart Jane Doe (lots of these if you watch CSI).
And that John Doe in the morgue could be any old Joe (which can also mean a cup of coffee). And that any old Joe could also be called Joe Blow (US) or Joe Bloggs (UK), Joe Sixpack (US), Joe Schmo or Schmoe or Shmo (US), Joe Public (UK), or John Q. Public (more common in the US).
Then there are beverages such as a Harvey Wallbanger, Tom Collins, Rob Roy, Shirley Temple (served to young girls), Roy Rogers (the same drink for boys, the latter two nonalcoholic, of course). There are shoes we call Mary Janes (yes, and the “medicinal” herb); clothing can include Mae Wests; government programs like Freddie Mac, Fanny Mae; and an interesting selection of unique characters like Sloane Rangers, Archie Bunkers, Mrs. Malaprops, Solomon Gundys (or Solomon Grundys), Jim Crows or Uncle Toms.
What does this mean for Tansa’s databases? We have legions of names (proper nouns) that can also be common nouns. Therefore this type of name, or noun, will need additional features and properties to correctly handle determiners (definite and indefinite articles) and plurals, among others. So back to the question of what’s in a name? Often a lot more than is obvious.
To read this article in Spanish, click here.