Vol. 47 No. 3 (1999)
Research Article

Of Barbers and Bottle Shops: Naming Businesses in South Africa

Published 1999-09-01



It is well-known that African personal names are acts of linguistic creativity, in which almost any word, phrase or sentence may serve as an input base. Preliminary examination of a corpus of business names, collected during 1992-1996, suggests the same. Names are coined by both business owners and community members, and both types may become official registrations. Some name types are unsurprising, e.g. those in which businesses are named after their owners or the place in which they are located. However, with the exception of barber and beauty shops, these are relatively infrequent. Other types include: (a) general community-oriented positive messages, (b) advice/exhortation, (c) conflict/admonitory, (d) advertisement, (e) personal achievement, (f) thanking a relative or ancestor for success. Typological differences between African and Western naming of businesses are discussed.

The basic orientation in the paper is to view business and shop names as exemplars of visual communication. One cannot ignore the social basis of the reader-directed message here. As in recent research on African anthroponymy, the focus here is on the relationship between names and their donors, and on the ways in which the act of naming is an act of social communication, embedded within a cultural framework.


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