Suppose my brother is named Bob, my father is named Robert, and my mother is named Roberta. Do these three people all have the same name? This is obviously not a question about their birth certificates but about the permissible usages of the expression "the same name."

I understand there is a narrow usage of this expression which would require exact match of orthography. But is there also a wider usage that counts the names as the same? It's clear what etymological connection these expressions have to each other; they share an etymological lineage. But do people ever use the term "one name" to pick out these lineages? Would you ever say these names are the same, or would you always resist that and insist on saying they only descend from the same name?

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    Where would you draw the line? My initial reaction is that your brother and your father obviously have different names, since you can unambiguously refer to either Bob or Robert. But Harry, for example, is an alternative form (derivative) of Henry. And those two are my father's first and middle names. On the other hand he has a grandson with Harry as a first name. So they have to be disambiguated as Harry Senior and Harry Junior if context doesn't make it clear who we're talking about. – FumbleFingers Jan 20 '16 at 13:41
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    In a broad sense they are paronyms of each other. "Robert" and "Roberta" are polymorphs (forms) of the same word according to gender. – Kris Jan 20 '16 at 14:57
  • Harry is also a nickname for Harold, at least here in the US. In fact, the most common nickname for Henry here is Hank, not Harry. – Steven Littman Jan 20 '16 at 19:31
  • So how would you know whether "Rob" was short for "Robert" or "Robin"? – Hot Licks Jan 21 '16 at 2:22
  • What is the context in which you need to know that two names are the "same"? Is there some legal situation, or is it something else? – Hot Licks Jan 21 '16 at 2:24

There are many names that are considered diminutive, or alternate, forms of other names, for example:

  • Bob and Bobby for Robert
  • Jim and Jimmy for James
  • Kate, Katey, and Cat for Katherine

While many people with these names have preferences about how they like to be addressed, they'll usually answer to the alternate forms (unless they like to be passive-aggressive about it). And their preferred form may not necessarily be the one on their birth certificate or other official documents; when there are multiple people with the same name in a family, it's common for them each to use a different variation (I have a friend who prefers James in public, but who was called Jim when he was growing up because his father was also James).

So for most practical purposes, these can be considered the same names.

On the other hand, the same cannot be said for the male/female variants of names. It would be inappropriate to use Robert to refer to a woman named Roberta. Bobbie is a diminutive form of Roberta; note that although it's pronounced the same as Bobby, it's spelled differently (in romance languages, the e ending is common on feminine words).


The individuation of names is a debated issue in the philosophy of language. But your question boils down to how we use the phrase "the same name." There'll be high variance on this, depending on the interests of the participants in the conversation.

In some contexts, John Francis Smith and John Francis Smith might be said to have different names. After all, the first belongs to one individual and the second to a different individual. One was bestowed in, say, 1800, and the other in, say, 2000. In some sense, they have different names that came into existence at different times.

In other contexts, one might consider John and Jon to have the same name, despite the orthographic difference.

In other contexts, one might consider Peter and Пётр to have the same name, despite the orthographic and phonological and language differences.

But the farther you drift in orthography, phonology, chronology, and cultural associations (like gender conventions), the more marked the use of "same name" will be. I don't think anyone would consider Roberta and Robert to have the same name, except in a rather strained sense.

But it is important to remember that there is no official notion of the sameness or individuation of a name--or of a word for that matter.

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