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N°20 – Proper names and the lexicon

Deadline for sending in final versions of papers: 31 October 2022

Lexis Journal in English Lexicology – will publish its 20th issue in 2022. It will be edited by Élise Mignot (Sorbonne Université, France) and Manon Philippe (Université Rennes 2, France) and will deal with the topic “Proper names and the lexicon”.

Proper names and the lexicon

This special issue of Lexis invites us to look at proper names, including units like John, Facebook (proper nouns) but also (the) United States, (the) Chancellor of the Exchequer (proper or denominative expressions). From a comparative perspective, we could also extend the analysis to peripheral forms close to proper names, such as nicknames and antonomasia of common nouns, which serve to name a referent in an alternative way (Lilibeth for Elizabeth, t/The Bard for William Shakespeare) in French or in English.

Proper names have already been the subject of a large number of publications, which have considered them from different angles: their meaning, their reference and their grammar/syntax (Algeo [1973], Kripke [1980], Kleiber [1981], Gary-Prieur [1994], Jonasson [1994], Vaxelaire [2001], Leroy [2001], Van Langendonck [2007], Matushansky [2008], Laurent [2010]). More specifically, we would like to address the place of proper names in the lexicon. If the lexicon is the stock of words available to the speaker, then proper names are part of the lexicon. However, one may wonder if the place they are given is comparable to that given to other units of the lexicon.

From a lexicographic point of view, they are given a special place (see Gary-Prieur [1991]). Very often, proper names are mentioned in encyclopaedias, and less so in dictionaries. When this is the case, they are separated from the other units of the lexicon (lexical and grammatical words) and have a dedicated section in the second part of the dictionary. Whereas terms such as table, check and she are associated with a grammatical definition – common noun, verb, personal pronoun; feminine/masculine; possible register; etc. – and (the beginning of) a decomposition into semantic features, a proper name like Churchill only has a few biographical elements associated with its referent in lieu of definition, as in encyclopaedias. This differential treatment of proper names no longer meets with consensus, and voices are being raised to “redefine the place of proper names in dictionaries: they must appear as lexemes and not only as cultural elements” (Vaxelaire [2006: 3], our translation). The perspective of this issue, however, is not so much lexicographic as lexicological: it is less the treatment of proper nouns as lexemes in dictionaries that will be of interest than the avenues allowing us to discuss the fact that proper names are indeed lexemes.

If they are, they should, like other lexemes, be assignable to a lexical class (table is a noun, check is a verb). Is this the case? Van Langendonck & Van de Velde propose to speak of a “proprial lemma”, which would be “a dictionary entry with an onomastic valency” [2016: §1] very often used in a denominative function. However, the examples they use, eg., Mary, John, London (Van Langendonck [1999: 96]), most often consist of a mono-lexical unit regularly referred to as “word”. One may wonder to what extent this analysis could be extended to poly-lexical units (United Kingdom) which, while belonging to the nominal domain, are not unanimously described as nouns. Analyses diverge:

  • Either some proper names are nouns (John), and the other forms (the UK) are not,

  • Either all proper names are noun phrases (this is the hypothesis of the self-determined proper name),

  • Or all proper names are nominals, i.e., intermediate units between nouns and noun phrases (Philippe [2020]).

It is already accepted that common poly-lexical nominal units are treated, albeit not uniformly, as elements of the lexicon (Boulanger [1989], Rey-Debove [1995]): this is the case for clef à molette, chemin de fer, crayon à papier / de bois in French, or carbonic acid, Adam’s apple, will-o’-the-wisp in English (compounds, derivatives, etc.). This issue could be an opportunity to systematise these observations: despite their internal syntactic decomposition into head-dependents, can complex nouns or nominals claim a lexical treatment similar to other lexemes? The lexicalisation of these units is then part of the research exploring the syntax-lexicon gradient.

Although the lexicon is known to have open classes, proper names also stand out in that this class is more open than any other. Speakers create proper names at a level that is probably underestimated, and little commented on. To do so, they rely on the same lexical creation processes as common nouns (Mignot [2018]): more than that, they even seem to overinvest in these processes. What can we draw from this about the lexical status of proper names, or perhaps their nominal status?

Finally, the separate status of proper names can be seen from their shifting position in the lexicon. Some proper names appear in dictionaries in a highly lexicalized form with stable content: un louis d’or (also called napoléon), a tartuffe or a P/polichinelle (type of person, toy), a Wilton (carpet), a V/valentine (person), a churchill (tank, cigar), a spencer (jacket), Popescu 2018), etc.: these are examples of proper name antonomasia that have acquired “common noun status” and are treated like them (lexicographically, grammatically and linguistically). But not all antonomastic proper names have reached such a degree of lexicalisation (Shakespeare, Mother Theresa), which raises the question of the existence of thresholds when units are integrated into the lexicon.

Outside the lexicon, the unconventional names that are given to certain referents (for which there is already a proper name) attest to a lexicalisation that is underway but has not yet been completed: these are nicknames, common noun antonomasia (Laurent [2010]), and naming periphrases (Jack the Ripper, Leather Apron, The Whitechapel Murderer). From this perspective, proper names can be seen as “just lexicalised”: in a dynamic approach to the lexicon, proper names would be at the threshold of the lexicon, offering a minimal degree of lexicalisation that could be increased.

Papers may focus on the following issues:

  • The processes of creation and/or formation of proper names: rather than an inventory of all the forms of proper names (which usually gives pride of place to hapaxes and rare forms), we will give priority to the identification and analysis of frequent processes which could be seen as particularly compatible with proper names.

  • The link between proper names, (degrees of) lexicalisation and the syntax-lexicon gradient: how can lexicalisation be seen as a dynamic and graded process, can we identify degrees of lexicalisation of proper names, what are the consequences for their syntactic status (what contribution can the syntax-lexicon gradient make)?

  • Forms close to proper names, or assimilable to proper names, such as sequences between inverted commas, hashtags, denominative expressions and nicknames, etc., provided that their gradual insertion into the lexicon is made explicit. They can be seen as attempts at lexicalisation, i.e., they can be created with the aim of entering the lexicon of a larger or smaller linguistic community.

  • Forms initially identified as “classic” proper names and which become even more lexicalized: antonomasias of common nouns, either complete or in progress, transformation into adjectival or verbal predicates (to Meghan Markle), etc.


Algeo John, 1973, On Defining the Proper Name, Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

Boulanger Jean-Claude, 1989, « Le statut du syntagme dans les dictionnaires généraux monolingues », Meta : Journal des traducteurs 34 (3), 360–369.

Gary-Prieur Marie-Noëlle, 1991, « Le nom propre constitue-t-il une catégorie linguistique ? », Langue française 92 (1), 4–25.

Gary-Prieur Marie-Noëlle, 1994, Grammaire du nom propre, Paris : PUF.

Jonasson Kerstin, 1994, Le nom propre. Constructions et interprétations, Louvain-la-Neuve : De Boeck Supérieur.

Kleiber Georges, 1981, Problèmes de référence : descriptions définies et noms propres, Metz : Centre d’Analyse Syntaxique de l’Université de Metz.

Kripke Saul, 1980, Naming and Necessity, Cambridge, Mass: HUP.

Laurent Nicolas, 2010, La part réelle du langage. Essai sur le nom propre et sur l’antonomase de nom commun, Thèse de doctorat, Paris : Université Paris IV Sorbonne.

Laurent Nicolas & Reggiani Christelle (Eds.), 2017, Seuils Du Nom Propre, Limoges : Lambert-Lucas.

Leroy Sarah, 2001, Entre identification et catégorisation, l’antonomase du nom propre en français, Thèse de doctorat, Montpellier : Université Paul Valéry-Montpellier 3.

Matushansky Ora, 2008, “On the Linguistic Complexity of Proper Names”, Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (5), 573–627.

Mignot Élise, 2018, La morphologie du nom en anglais : vers une sémantique des parties du discours, Monographie d’HDR, Paris : Sorbonne Université.

Philippe Manon, 2020, Le nominal propre. Étude du nom propre en anglais, Thèse de doctorat, Paris : Sorbonne Université.

Popescu Floriana, 2018, A Paradigm of Comparative Lexicology, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Rey-Debove Josette, 1995, « Nom Propre, lexique et dictionnaire de langue », in Noailly Michèle (Ed.), Nom Propre et Nomination, Brest : Klinck- Sieck, 107–122.

Van Langendonck Willy, 1999, “Neurolinguistic and Syntactic Evidence for Basic Level Meaning in Proper Names”, Functions of Language 6 (1), 95–138.

Van Langendonck Willy, 2007, Theory and Typology of Proper Names, Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Van Langendonck Willy & Van de Velde Mark, 2016, “Names and Grammar”, in Hough Carole (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Names and Naming, Oxford: OUP, 17-38.

Vaxelaire Jean-Louis, 2001, Pour une lexicologie du nom propre, Thèse de doctorat, Paris : Paris 7 – Université de Paris.

Vaxelaire Jean-Louis, 2006, « Le nom propre en contexte - une approche lexicologique », in Blampain Daniel, Thoiron Philippe & Van Campenhoudt Marc (Eds.), Mots, termes et contextes : Actes des septièmes journées scientifiques du réseau de chercheurs ‘Lexicologie Terminologie Traduction’, Bruxelles, Belgique, 8, 9 et 10 Septembre 2005, Paris : Éditions des archives contemporaines, 591–599.

How to submit

Please clearly indicate the title of the paper and include an abstract between 3,000 and 6,000 characters (including spaces) as well as a list of relevant key-words and references. All abstract and paper submissions will be anonymously peer-reviewed (double-blind peer reviewing) by an international scientific committee composed of specialists in their fields. Papers will be written preferably in English or occasionally in French.

Manuscripts may be rejected, accepted subject to revision, or accepted as such. There is no limit to the number of pages.

Abstracts and articles will be sent via email to


September 15 2021: Call for papers

January 31 2022: Deadline for sending in abstracts to Lexis

March 2022: Evaluation Committee’s decisions notified to authors

June 30 2022: Deadline for sending in papers (Guidelines for submitting articles:

July and August 2022: Proofreading of papers by the Evaluation committee

September 1 to October 31 2022: Authors’ corrections

October 31 2022: Deadline for sending in final versions of papers

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