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There is a song (called "Kilkelly"), and in the song, "you" (the person the narrator is singing to) had a child. And there is a lyric:

"And Bridgette is happy you named the child for her."

And, to my anglophone ears, I realize that this sentence could mean two different things. It could mean something like

  1. "Bridgette had the responsibility of naming your own child, instead of you choosing your child's name. But she didn't want this responsibility, and is happy that you took the responsibility instead", or
  2. "You named your child to have the same name as Bridgette".

And indeed, there is ambiguity in a different sentence:

And Bridgette is happy you named the child after her.

This sentence could mean

  1. the same as #2 above (ie, that you named the child to have the same name as Bridgette), or
  2. The nurse asked Bridgette "What's the name of this child? I have to write a name on the child's birth certificate", and Bridgette gave her idea of a name. And then after she did that, you told the nurse "No, don't listen to Bridgette. I'm going to name the child, now".

Question:
1) Suppose I was learning English as a second language. What online resource could I use to find out each of the two meanings of each of these two sentences?


Extra remarks / background:

I am a native English speaker, and I am learning French.

The more I learn about French, the more I have questions that want an answer that teaches me about linguistics. However, every time, I never realize that I actually wanted that linguistic information until someone sees my French-related question, and then compares French, English, and other languages, to thus give me a linguistics-related answer.

I am having a lot of difficulty with prepositions, in my French learning. It feels that prepositions are fuzzy in meaning. And now, I am sometimes realizing that prepositions are fuzzy in meaning in English, too, where two different prepositions could be chosen, only with a slight nuance in meaning; or where the meaning of the preposition in a particular sentence could not have been guessed given that preposition's usual meaning.

I'm craving strategies that could 1) help me identify this murky discomfort about prepositions -- what exactly about them make me uncomfortable? What patterns exist that can be identified as making me uncomfortable? and 2) linguistic information/ideas that might help me make sense of how prepositions are used.

  • I don't think a "murky discomfort about prepositions" is so big an issue, because preposition use is murky. Most have many meanings not to mention idiomatic usage. I think understanding the overall context is the best guide. In you example, the likely preposition is (or means) after, because people often name their children after (time-wise) someone they admire who already has that name. – user3169 Jun 3 '18 at 19:52
  • @user3169 do you know if linguists have explored (and mapped out) the murkiness of prepositions? perhaps linguists have made some sense of the patterns of murkiness that appear, so i can make better sense of this? – silph Jun 3 '18 at 20:23
  • That might be a better question for EL&U or Language Learning SE. You might want to use some description other than murkiness though, which by definition clouds what you are really looking for. – user3169 Jun 3 '18 at 23:45
  • As for your question "Question: 1) Suppose I was learning English...", could you explain why a dictionary didn't help, given the understood context. – user3169 Jun 3 '18 at 23:48
  • @user3169 : I'm not sure what English dictionaries exist that could explain "for" as in "I cooked dinner for her", and "for" and "after" as in "I named the child for/after my sister" (as in "I named the child to have the same name as my sister") – silph Jun 4 '18 at 0:11
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In this case, 'name the child for her' or 'name the child after her', mean the same thing. You had a child and called it Bridgette, and Bridgette is pleased to have the child share her name.

The alternate meanings that you raised for both phrases are not incorrect in theory, but both of these phrases are almost always used for the sole purpose of indicating that you have chosen a name for your child to show your respect, or friendship, for the person who already carries that name.

You are correct, prepositions are murky monsters in almost every language. They are frequently used in idiosyncratic ways that simply have to be learned. Their use can't be deduced simply from a knowledge of the individual words in a prepositional phrase or phrasal verb. Expressions such as 'fitting in', 'slipping up', 'sleep over', etc., have to be learned as separate units. And to make matters worse, different languages will often use different combinations of verb and preposition to mean the same thing.

  • if i were a student of English, though, is there a way (without asking someone, e.g. on stackexchange) that could tell me all of these meanings? – silph Jun 4 '18 at 0:10
  • 1
    "Name a child for.." is less grammatically correct than "Name a child after..", although I have heard both expressions used many times. I could find the second usage on-line, but I was unable to find the first. You can find information about the meaning and usage of some prepositional phrases or phrasal verbs on-line. However, because there are so many of these types of expression, and they come in and out of fashion, you are not likely to find information about all of them. In that case you can either ask for help, or use them in conversation and see if you are corrected. – James Jun 4 '18 at 12:58
  • If you could link to online resources that explain "for" as in "He did this for me (saving me from having to do it)", and either "for" or "after" as in "Name a child for/after her (ie, name the child to have the same name as her)", then this would give me enough idea of what online reference resources exist out there for learning prepositions [and how to find such resources], and I'd mark your answer as accepted. – silph Jun 4 '18 at 19:44
  • If you do a Google search for "name a child after" you will find several articles which mention this practice. You may also like to read the Wikipedia article entitled "Namesake". If you are named after someone, then, in some cultures, you are referred to as their namesake. The article includes several references to "naming after" and the only reference that I could find to "naming for" (see second paragraph in section "Usage") – James Jun 4 '18 at 20:14
  • The following link will take you to an article about prepositional phrases. If you scroll down the page a bit, you will find a list of seceral prepositional phrases beginning with 'for'. advanced-english-grammar.com/list-of-prepositional-phrases.html – James Jun 4 '18 at 20:21

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