Dolphins have names


The next logical question is “do they have names for us?” Maybe Flipper used to think of his trainer as the dolphin word for “Foot.”

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To the delight of New Agers, dolphins turn out to have names like “Starlight Fin” and “Joy Ocean-Wisdom” and “Bubbles Lovealot.” (Although the latter may also be translated as “Farty Long-Estrous.”)

Alas, this story is a pack of lies:


I am not sure if that really is the point. The objection there seems to be about calling these signals names since those are identifiers people use in a variety of cases like third-person reference, which is certainly not what is shown here.

But does anyone say it does? The only real claim from the article is that dolphins have individual signifiers they use to identify themselves and recognize, which I can easily see getting called “names” in an informal way, even if it’s more of an “I-am-chenille” phrase than a proper name in a linguistic sense (and yeah, I might respond to that with “I-am-chenille”, though my emphasis would change).

Pullum likens it to dogs responding to their individual barks, and certainly as far as development of grammar goes, nobody has shown anything more here. But I’ve never heard of dogs singling out their own barks that way; is self-recognition in a sound less remarkable than it is in a mirror?

I bet they have names like ‘Carlos Danger’ and ‘St John De Courcey’

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I had heard this story years ago, and brought it up in a grad level linguistics seminar when we discussed the evolution of language in humans. I informed the gruff, silverback-gorilla-like professor, “Dolphins call each other names!”

He shot back, “What, like ‘retard’?”

(He wasn’t known for his sensitivity.)

that’s so cool! i wish i could hear what john lilly would have to say about it.

It is so nice to think dolphins might have beautiful exotic names but it is more likely that they have names like: Squeaky, Wet Nose, Stinky, Slow Poke, Fish Breath, Stupid and Kevin.

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