I asked a question about the history of names. The question text is asking about the origin of a practice of family names or surnames. There is some contention as to whether this question is on topic for the site, with user Oldcat making the claim that the question is more about history and culture, outside the scope of the language involved.
I think the question is on topic for the site. My reasoning goes like this:
- Proper names of English speakers are words in the English language.
- Etymology and the history of words' development are on topic for the site.
- Etymology includes the origins, form, and construction of words.
- Q.E.D., the etymology of names are on topic for the site.
Regarding point 1, I think the main reason for this is that because English speakers recognize them as words. Clearly, all names of people (and of all things) are a part of a language, but English names belong to the English language just as Norwegian names belong to the Norwegian language.
Regardless of whether or not names belong in a dictionary, I don't think it's stretching at all to claim that they are words belonging to a particular language (or set of languages, if they are common). You could argue that names supersede any particular language: I would expect people to call me by my given name, regardless of the language they speak (provided I could communicate my name to them in the first place). But similarly, if I were speaking to a Japanese speaker and told them my name (even if I spoke perfect Japanese), they would know it was not a Japanese name; some might even recognize it as an English name.
I would agree that questions about a specific name or a specific point in history, like "Why did Lisa overtake Mary as the most popular baby girls name in USA in 1964?", that question would primarily about culture and history and therefore off-topic about for the site. Similarly, questions about German names would be off topic (and need to be asked on a site about the German language).
However, as an example, imagine that a native English speaker (call him Bob) encountered someone named Adam Bzxphilq-Werhbarchkt. Bob would likely infer that this person's surname is a blend of two other family names by marriage. Either
- Adam was originally named either Bzxphilq-Werhbarchkt and married someone with the other name.
- This person's parents' family names were Bzxphilq and Werhbarchkt.
Bob would make this inference without any recognition of those particular names (which I just made up; any likeness to real family names is purely coincidental). I think Bob's inference is a convention of the English language above and beyond any particular name, culture or (pure) history discussion that probably has a particular origin, is worth studying, and is on topic for the site.
In other words, even if we accept that names supersede or fall outside of a particular language, the question I asked still falls under the usage of the language because the construction of a hyphenated last name has meaning to an English speaker beyond the actual names involved.
There are other questions on the site about the etymology of names (such as this and this) that an equal argument could be made against. I think this hinges on where we draw the distinction between culture and language. Words are undeniably a part of our culture as much as our language, but that doesn't stop us asking questions about e.g. the language of Baseball in USA or Cricket in Britain.
What say ye mods?