the unkindest cut of all

February 13, 2009 § Leave a comment

Linguistics is not all about the grammar.

Linguistics can also be about investigating the ‘real world’, though personally I think the so-called real world is actually made out of language. One half of the linguistics discipline is all about investigating the role language plays in society. An example of this kind of examination which is kinda fun, kinda interesting, and kinda revealing is looking at the names of hair dressers/hair stylists/hair designers.

Naming businesses must be the fun part of the whole enterprise, and when we investigate the names the hair dressers came up with, we can identify a number of strategies. Discovering strategies is interesting in itself, but I wonder if we can make any assumptions about the business, its customers or clients from a salon’s name.

Linguists love this word – so here I am going to tell you how I went about collecting the data.

I read the Wellington yellow pages, well the hairdresser section. I noted the names of 150 hairdressers in that region. (In part 2 I will do the same for the hairdressers of the Manawatu region).
Inspecting the names I tried to come up with ways to classify them. The categories emerged from the data (mostly) which in fancy research terms is called using grounded theory but we don’t need to know why. I say mostly, because I have always thought that hairdressers seem to love a good pun, so that was a pre-existing category that I had in mind.

The categories I came up with were as follows:
location  As the name suggests – the names of these Salons indicated their actual location!

personal name  These names suggested the name of a real person who most probably is (or was) associated with the particular salon.

glamour   The glamour naming strategy attempted to invoke ‘high class’ imagery. These often included words from other European languages, class imagery such as Lords and Ladies, or high culture.

aspiration  These names suggested self-improvement, and professional success. In fact one of them was call ed Success.

pun  A pun or a play on words is when a string of sounds can be associated with two different meanings. An example of this might be the salon A Brush with Style. Clearly this has two meanings – the literal one, someone brushing hair with style -or a hairbrush that has some stylish quality – okay it is ambiguous in itself. The idiomatic meaning is ‘an encounter with style’.

hair related  This strategy used some element of hair or hair dressing in its name. This does not merely mean the word hair as almost all of them had that in the name, but things related to hair like shine or scissors.

other  This, a rather large category, included all those that did not fit into any of the group above. Incidently, this included some names, but these were historical or religious figures such as Samson and Delilah or Iis that were in no way connected to the salon.

 ambiguous The final category was used for salon names that could have been in one or more categories. Some were possibly names but could also have been made up words.


It turns out that apart from the ‘other’ , l0cation and name were the big strategies. Location, interestingly was very  much a suburban strategy. that is there were few if any Location forms in the CBD.  Names were quite widely distributed, though further analysis might suggest breaking down those with a single (especially female) name, and those with a full name.

Puns were the next largest, and they too seemed to have a suburban distribution.

 hmm it turns out that tables are hard to pull off on wordpress  so here’s a list

location             14
name 34
glamour 14
pun 15
aspiration 8
hair 8
other 47
ambiguous 10


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