What’s in a Name? The Implications of Strategic Naming Choices in Legal Advocacy

59 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2024

See all articles by Kristin Gerdy

Kristin Gerdy

J. Reuben Clark Law School, BYU

Date Written: January 31, 2024


Descriptions. Names. Labels. Seemingly innocent choices that lawyers make while writing every document and arguing every motion. Do we think about the power of those choices? Does the collective wisdom and historical practice that we learn in law school or practice lead us to make the best choices for our clients when it comes to decisions about what to “call people”? To quote Shakespeare, does “that which we call a rose, by any other name [really] smell as sweet”? This Article aims to inform and enrich our persuasive work as advocates by building on theory from psycholinguistics and the linguistic field of socio-onomastics as well as their insights into the use of names and descriptions in human culture and communication. After summarizing and illustrating the traditional advice given by legal writing experts and professors about the use of names and descriptions, the author explains psycholinguistic findings related to name use. She then introduces the relevant theory and application from other relevant subfields of linguistics, explains why such naming practices matter, and analyzes how they can help lawyers make more informed and strategic choices when writing and speaking about clients and other people. The author concludes with a series of overarching guidelines for the use of naming/descriptive principles in law practice.

Keywords: law, linguistics, psycholinguistics, legal writing, advocacy, names, references, socio-onomastics

Suggested Citation

Gerdy, Kristin, What’s in a Name? The Implications of Strategic Naming Choices in Legal Advocacy (January 31, 2024). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4712253 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4712253

Kristin Gerdy (Contact Author)

J. Reuben Clark Law School, BYU ( email )

430 JRCB
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602
United States
801-422-9022 (Phone)
801-422-0401 (Fax)

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