Reference necessarily depends on the specific context in which a given word or phrase is used (Kroeger, 2018, p. 16). It is difficult to precisely define reference, but typically we are discussing the speaker’s use of words to allude to something in the real world. In other words, the attention of the audience/hearer is directed towards or enabled to identify something. (Kroeger, 2018, p. 17) Therefore, reference involves a fact of the real-world and contributes meaning to situations under discussion.

Semanticists have identified proper names (like Chief Joe Mathias) to always refer to the same individual, however naming traditions challenge this belief. For instance, there may be many individuals that share a traditional name which challenges the individuality of proper names.


In Hul’q’umi’num’, “once a nickname was used for a certain person, it would not be used in reference to another.” (Gerdts & Peter, 2011., p. 91)

Gerdts & Peter (2011) give the example of the name silyə that referred to Ruby Peter’s mother Cecelia Leo in contrast to səsil which refers to Cecelia Pierre (p. 91)


Gerdts, D. B., & Peter, R. M. (2011). The form and function of nativized names in Hul’q’umi’num’. ICSNL, 46, 81-100.

Kroeger, P. R. (2018). Analyzing meaning: An introduction to semantics and pragmatics. Language Science Press.