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According to Phrase Finder, the idiomatic expression name and shame was originally used as a noun phrase,

From the Pennsylvania newspaper The Warren Ledger, October 1884:

  • "None are willing to father the name and shame of being beer or whisky men."

and only from the ‘90s its contemporary usage has increased considerably as a verb phrase:

following an initiative by the UK Government. On Oct 8, 1996 The Independent (London) reported that:

  • "The Home Secretary [Conservative minister Michael Howard] is also expected to suggest a scheme to 'name and shame' young offenders by giving courts the power to remove the automatic anonymity for under-18s."

I couldn't find other details about the origin of the expression, and the information provided by the above source, though interesting, are inconclusive.

  • Can anyone provide more precise details about its earliest usages?

  • Is the expression a British English or an American English one?

  • What actually triggered the considerable spike in usage visible from the ‘90s?

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+100

The verb phrase 'named and shamed' appears in print at least as early as around 1556, in a marginal note in The Copye of a Letter, Sent by John Bradforth.... (see the sixth paragraph preceding A tragicall blast of the Papisticall trompette and associated marginal note). The context of the note is this:

Peraduenture some will be offended because I speake so plaine. GOD is my witnesse I cannot for very shame name such, as I cold & haue heard Spaniards name with shame enough, ....

The note reads as follows (in part):

But take hede with this warning, or els ye wil shortly be named and shamed.

The collocation of 'name' and 'shame' had appeared in print previously in at least two works. Sometime around 1483, it appeared twice in a work by John Gower titled Confessio Amantis, once in Book 5,

The thyrde whiche was after shamed
Was Nabogo donoser named

and again in Book 7,

That in her lyf she were shamed
And I therof were euyl named....

The collocation appears again in John Skelton's Why Come Ye Nat to Courte, printed around 1545:

No shame to do amys
And yet he is a shamed
To be shamfully named
....

Early collocations, and use of the phrase itself, are unsurprising; the conceptual association suggests itself after the rhyme is noticed.


In the centuries and decades intervening between the use of 'name and shame' in 1556, and a noticable uptick in such use in the 1990s, the phrase appears infrequently. When it does appear, it is often associated with politics and politicians.


In the mid-1990s, an uptick in use of the phrase is associated with the political rhetoric of the US right-wing senator and presidential contender, Robert Dole, who attacked what he termed the "mainstreaming of deviancy" in Hollywood. As quoted in the Journal and Courier, Lafayette, Indiana, 01 Jun 1995 (paywalled), Senator Dole condemned what he considered immoral Hollywood producers:

Those who cultivate moral confusion for profit should understand this: We will name names and shame them as they deserve to be shamed.

By October of 1996, Home Secretary Michael Howard of the UK had adapted Dole's rhetoric for use in a "law-and-order offensive" that accompanied "his US-style crime bill". One initiative in the Howard crime bill was a scheme

to "name and shame" juvenile offenders....

The Guardian, London, England, 09 Oct 1996 (paywalled).

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The early usages I've been able to find date from the late sixteenth century. Here's the earliest dated usage, from the book Albions England by William Warner (1597), p. 187:

Vnto the Cuckooe, ouerkinde to brooke Coriuals, [Pallas]

Adiudg'd a Spring-times changeles note, and whilst his yong ones be

By others hatcht, to name and shame himselfe in euery Tree.

The goddess Pallas made the cuckoo sing in a changeless note ("to name and shame") as its young were raised by other birds. This is in essence a punishment for wickedness. Other early usages have a similar sense, like this one in The Strong Helper by John Hayward (1614), p. 441:

Goe then, and be more cruell then euer was murdering theefe, oppressing tyrant, bloudy Cain, or Senacheribs vngracious impes, goe and be more cruel then any cruel beast, that though it be an enemie to the life of other creatures, yet is a re∣solut defender of it owne life; if thou striue for the name and shame of most cruel, yea more cruel then man or beast ...

The passage goes on; the sense of it is that someone who kills themselves strives for the "name and shame" of being crueler than any murderer, since they murder themselves before they can be murdered by a Cain or someone else. (Yeah, it's heavy theology.) So if you're getting the "name and shame" of something, it's a bad thing.

I don't know whether these early usages are directly related to their later ones (that'd take a lot more archival work! catchy rhyming verbs could originate independently at different times!), but it at least shows that the phrase was around and had a similar meaning in an earlier time period.

So to briefly answer your other questions, this definitely originated in British English since it was around before American English existed. In modern usage, I've seen it on both sides of the pond; the Corpus of Contemporary American English shows it in media use 11 times since 2000. As for why it spiked after 1996, I'd suggest it's because similar policies of removing anonymity for certain kinds of law or policy offenders (sex offenders, young adult offenders, offenders at the workplace) were proliferating in the 1990s and afterward, some of which borrowed the "name and shame" label. Michael Howard used the phrase and it caught on as an apt phrase. That's why we can find the phrase in everything from headline descriptions of OSHA guidelines to forum discussions of policies for multiplayer video games.

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