29

This is something that I think is present in most languages. If I were to present my self in English, I might say:

My name is DisplayName.

Where as in other languages I can both say:

Mitt namn är DisplayName

Or I could use heter like this:

Jag heter DisplayName.

Or in Icelandic, "nafn mitt er DisplayName", or "Ég heiti DisplayName", or in Spanish it would be "me llamo DisplayName".

Why is there no such English word? Has it ever existed? (Old English, Middle English) etc.

  • 7
    In Spanish, llamar means call. Llamarse is a reflexive version of it. Me llamo means "they call me...". It's just convention. – Atamiri Feb 19 '15 at 22:02
  • 3
    We use the passive of "call" or "name"; many languages do. – user6726 Feb 19 '15 at 22:18
  • 4
    It's just a similar difference as between "I like it" and "eso me gusta". The phrases differ in their argument structure. You could say "it pleases me", it's just not common. Many things in language are arbitrary. – Atamiri Feb 19 '15 at 23:13
  • 1
    The English "I call myself Daniel," is a direct translation of the Spanish "Me llamo Daniel," although it would be strange to use this construction to introduce oneself. – Joe Palaca Feb 20 '15 at 3:19
  • 1
    "Call me Ishmael". "My name is Michael, but you can call me Mike". – Eric Feb 22 '15 at 17:06
44

English does have that verb which is etymologically related to the Swedish heter, Icelandic heiti, German heißen, etc. In English it is to hight, only it is archaic, still sometimes it is used nowadays, mostly in poetry, for example in the 1943 poem I hight Don Quixote, I live on peyote by John Whiteside “Jack” Parsons, or in the name of the modern punk rock song Toni-I-Hight by the band The Arrivals.

  • 14
    I'm a native English speaker. I've never heard of this word (although I like it!) and it is definitely archaic. But @DisplayName the reason why it's not in use is clear from examples like "Childe Harold he was hight" (from dictionary.reference.com/browse/hight?s=t); it's really a drop-in replacement for "called," and the entire "I am called" construction is absent from modern spoken English. But as to why that disappeared I have no clue – shadowtalker Feb 20 '15 at 1:52
  • 10
    @ssdecontrol: I occasionally hear "I go by" or "you can call me" which seem close to the "I'm called" idiom from other languages, but both are a little bit more wordy. YellowSky: Thanks for that -- It's news to me; I'll have to see if I can revive it in daily usage. :) – Adrian Feb 20 '15 at 2:18
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    @SteveJessop no native English speaker, at least in the United States, would say "I'm called Steve." The passive voice implies some degree of removal from the speaker, in that "other people call me Steve." Consider the difference between "I am Ishmael" or "My name is Ishmael" and "Call me Ishmael" (the actual opening sentence of Moby Dick). The latter explicitly connotes that the narrator might not in fact be named Ishmael. I imagine the phrase dropped out of casual use when it acquired that connotation. – shadowtalker Feb 20 '15 at 3:04
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    @Adrian both phrases would usually be reserved for giving a nickname, or a short name, or some name that isn't actually your name, but that you would prefer people use. – shadowtalker Feb 20 '15 at 3:23
  • 3
    There is a material difference in meaning to say what your official name is (parents name, birth certificates, married name, stage name) verses the names you may go by. I have two friends who in the companies they work go by their preferred name not the name on their birth certificates. Chinese friends and colleagues have two names, an English one and a Chinese one. It's important to know when a person is asserting the name they choose or their "legal" name e.g. "My name is Priyanka but you can call me Pinky" clarifies both legal name and preferred name. – simbo1905 Feb 20 '15 at 7:46
13

From my understanding of the other answers, I think English does have this idiom. Only, instead of a "word", in English "nothing at all" is used (or if you're a programmer, the empty string).

The Swedish phrase:

Jag heter XX

is translatable to English as:

I am called XX

But this is uncommon in spoken English. Instead of directly translating "heter" to "called", in spoken English it is often expressed as "" (nothing at all):

I am XX

or

I'm XX

So the idiom does exist. But instead of using a word, English uses the first person form of the verb "to be" (the word "am") as the mechanism.

  • My feeling is that "called" is closer to "kallas för" in Swedish. Difference between your given name and what you are referred to. i.e My name is Douglas. I am called Doug. – Viktor Mellgren Sep 30 at 11:12
  • @ViktorMellgren I'm not referring to nuance of usage - just grammar. The grammatical construct exists in English though the "word" is often completely left out of the sentence in normal speech. Kind of like the verb "to be" in English, the concept and grammar construct of the verb "to be" exists but is either replaced by different words depending on context or completely removed from the sentence. – slebetman Sep 30 at 11:18
  • You are correct, I missed the whole point :) – Viktor Mellgren Sep 30 at 11:41
10

English does have a word for it, it's called.

e.g.

Swedish: Jag heter Danny

English: I'm called Danny

Although I'm Danny, or My name's Danny sounds less 'weird' to me.

  • While this does convey the same meaning, I believe the core question is about the absence of a single word. I think "I'm called" is more related to the French "Je m'mapelle" than to the Swedish "Jag heter" or the German "Ich heiße". – user5568 Feb 20 '15 at 3:05
  • agree with SixthOfFour. "I'm called" is more of how poeple.. uh... call me, not necessarily my real name as my parents gave to me. One could call you "Dan" for "Danny" as a nickname, but that is not your real name. So "called" is not what TO searches for. – Sempie Feb 20 '15 at 6:52
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    @Sempie I've heard that using "called" for a simple statement of someone's name is more common in British english. – Random832 Feb 20 '15 at 15:13
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    @SixthOfFour but the OP puts as an example "me llamo" which is two words. "Yo me llamo" is a literal translation of "Je m'appelle", with the only difference that in Spanish the subject (Yo) is usually omitted because it is evident from the conjugation of the verb. – abl Feb 21 '15 at 15:21
  • 1
    @abl The following is my interpretation, and I may be wrong. From the OP's profile page, it's clear that (s)he is Swedish. (S)He also claims to speak "very, very little Icelandic and Spanish", and I believe the reference to the Spanish "me ilamo" is simply a confusion due to the omitted subject. I still believe that the question is about a literal translation of "att heta", and until the OP says I'm wrong, I'll continue believing that. – user5568 Feb 21 '15 at 16:25
3

The question was, 'Why does English not have a version of... heter'. Why does any change happen in languages? As others have said, there used to be one. In Old English you could say, 'Đa deor hie hatađ hranas' (The animals they called reindeer), but by the Middle Ages hatan had become hight and then died out, presumably because the alternatives became more popular.

Incidentally, in Barnsley people would ask, 'What do they call you?' rather than 'What are you called?' but that is a regional variation.

3

The normal English (as spoken in England) is 'I'm called'. From the responses given so far I am very surprised to discover this is not used in some american dialects but certainly it is very common in standard English as spoken in England.

protected by Community Feb 20 '15 at 18:55

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