CfP: “Names and Politics” Conference 2023

Conference: 20-22.09.2023, Academy of Sciences and Literature Mainz, Germany

Organisers: Daniel Kroiß (TU Darmstadt), Miriam Lind (Mainz University), Lena Späth (Mainz University)

The naming of people and places has always been entwined with the political. This politics of onomastics has been engaged with since the late 1980s (ALIA 1989), with BOURDIEU (1991, 105) writing of “the permanent power to name and to create the world through naming” (Bourdieu 1991, 105) as an activity to which all social agents aspire. Despite these early acknowledgements of the political and social significance of names and naming, however, political onomastics has not attracted broad attention, particularly in the German-speaking world. An exception is the field of (post-)colonial toponomastics, which critically studies onomastic place-taking in former colonies and its commemoration in street and place names in the colonising countries (e.g. STOLZ/WARNKE 2018, EBERT 2021). While political toponomy has found disparate engagement in the English academy (e.g. BERG/VUOLTEENAHO 2009, BIGON 2016, JORDAN ET AL. 2021), the politics of personal naming has rarely been studied at all, even though colonial naming regulations have heavily impacted the inventory of and attitudes towards personal names in different areas (e.g. ALIA 2006, LINDGREN 2011).

The politics of personal names and naming features across myriad contexts: in relation to migration (e.g. when the acquisition of a ‘local’ name is required for naturalisation); regarding marital or family name choices; regulations on permissible/legal first name choices (e.g. regarding onymic gender marking or offensiveness of names); the banning of certain names (e.g. bans on names denoting particular religious or ethnic belongings as is discussed in Tajikistan, see THIBAULT 2016); or the obligation for certain groups to bear socially marked names (e.g. for the Jewish population during the Nazi regime in Germany, see FRIEDLÄNDER 1998). The politics of naming is further tied to the politics of memory and nationhood, with streets, places, and buildings named after individuals or historical events, and emergent disputes regarding these names and figures that are memorialised (cf. NEMEC/WENNINGER 2019).

Proper names, naming and name usage are embedded in power constellations and between societal systems of values and beliefs. It is these intersections of names, power, and politics that this conference intends to address. The conference takes place on the 20.-22. September 2023 at the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz, Germany. We welcome theoretical and empirical papers in English or German from all fields within and across the social sciences and humanities that address names, naming and name usage from a political perspective. Abstracts (max. 500 words, English or German) should be submitted to namentagung2023@uni-mainz.deThe deadline is 31.12.2022.


Alia, Valerie (1989): Towards a Politics of Naming. Dissertation, York University, Ontario/Kanada.
Alia, Valerie (2006): Names and Nunavut. Culture and Identity in the Inuit Homeland. New York, Oxford.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1991): Language and Symbolic Power. Ed. and introd. by John B. Thompson. Cambridge.
Ebert, Verena: Koloniale Straßennamen. Benennungspraktiken im Kontext kolonialer Raumaneignung in der deutschen Metropole von 1884 bis 1945. Berlin, Boston.
Friedländer, Saul (1998): Das Dritte Reich und die Juden. Bd. 1: Die Jahre der Verfolgung, 1933-1939. München.
Lindgren, Anna-Riitta (2011): Parallelle personnavn i et trespråklig miljø. In: NOA norsk som andrespråk 27 (1), 33-58.
Nemec, Birgit/Wenninger, Florian (Hgg.) (2019): Geschichtspolitik im öffentlichen Raum: zur Benennung und Umbenennung von Straßen. Göttingen.
Puzey, Guy/Konstanski, Laura (2016): Names and Naming. People, Places, Perceptions and Power. Bristol u.
Stolz, Thomas/Warnke, Ingo (Hgg.) (2018): Vergleichende Kolonialtoponomastik. Strukturen und Funktionen kolonialer Ortsbenennung. Berlin, Boston.