Since I'm confused with these two phrases, I did a search in Google Books hoping to find some examples. But then I found this paragraph:

Two private spaces or replicas cannot contain the same object with two distinct references. For example, during a disconnected phase, the pump can be present in two different private spaces and still be designated with the same name. During a meeting, two replicas use a same name to access the pump object(local or distant).

This made me more confused. I don't really understand why "the same name" was used in one sentence while "a same name" was used in another. Are there any differences between them?

  • 3
    I don't think *a same name is standard English. It sounds odd to me as a native speaker, and searching COCA, I see 923 results for the same name but no results at all for a same name. In Google books Ngram Viewer, the ratio between the two is about 10,000:1, and most of the results that do exist for the latter use same-name attributively, with the preceding article a present because of the following noun, so the actual ratio is even higher.
    – user230
    Oct 21, 2013 at 8:54
  • @snailboat So "a same name" is wrong and I should avoid it? Oct 21, 2013 at 9:46
  • 2
    I don't think snailboat means it's wrong; I think it's unusual and therefore not likely to be encountered except in specialized cases.
    – J.R.
    Oct 21, 2013 at 9:48
  • 1
    It sounds wrong to me. You should use "an identical" instead. Here is some corroboration from Google Ngrams, where "the same" has been omitted because it overwhelms all the other lines on the graph. Oct 21, 2013 at 16:35
  • The authors of the article are French, so I guess English is their L2.
    – Alex B.
    Oct 27, 2013 at 16:22

3 Answers 3


A noun phrase (NP) can be definite or indefinite:

  • One way to mark an NP as definite is to use the definite article the.
  • One way to mark an NP as indefinite is to use the indefinite article a.

A speaker marks an NP as definite when they assume the listener will be able to identify what the NP refers to. They mark an NP as indefinite when they don't make this assumption.

Some other words have semantics that are only compatible with either definiteness or indefiniteness. For example, same is definite; if you use it, you're specifying what the NP it modifies is referring to. There are two possibilities:

  • Same can indicate that the NP refers to something previously mentioned. In this case, the listener must be able to identify what that referent is.
  • Same can indicate that two or more things co-refer (meaning they refer to the same thing). That means the listener is able to identify what these things refer to (each other), even if they don't know anything else about them and they haven't been previously mentioned. That's enough to count as definite in English.

Since same only make sense in definite contexts, it can combine with the, and it can't combine with a. For this reason, *a same name is not standard English.


If you differ between 'a name' and 'the name', roughly speaking, you use the former if you are speaking of an arbitrary name and the latter if you are speaking of a specific name, namely 'the name'.

But the inclusion of the word 'same' induces by its meaning equality between the related names. Hence, in fact, you are speaking of one specific name.


I would recommend understanding the circumstances in which the definite (the) and indefinite (a/an) articles are used in English. The choice of which to use depends on much on context.

In the excerpt that you have provided, use of "the" in "the same name" suggests that there can only be one name used by this pump, whereas the use of "a" further on in "a same name" suggests any arbitrary name can be used.

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