Volume 25 Fifty Years of CRIL
Graduate Working Papers

"Don't make me pull a Britney": Onomastics and Genericness in the PULL A [PROPER NAME] Construction

Maureen Kosse
PhD student

Published 2021-08-22


  • naming,
  • onomastics,
  • constructional compositionality,
  • proper names

How to Cite

Kosse, M. (2021). "Don’t make me pull a Britney": Onomastics and Genericness in the PULL A [PROPER NAME] Construction. Colorado Research in Linguistics, 25. https://doi.org/10.33011/cril.v25i.1133


This paper considers the PULL A PROPER NAME (PAPN) construction in English. The bulk of onomastic research in linguistics present proper names as a word class with ‘unique reference’, often comparing them to deictic expressions (cf. Searle 1969). Unlike deictics, however, names are interpretable beyond the immediate linguistic context. Accounts from sociocultural and cognitive linguistics dispute the notion of unique reference, instead arguing that proper names vary in everyday use. Proper names typically invoke specific persons; however, the data provided here indicates that names are frequently used as metonymic framing devices for specific events, generic scenarios, and hypothetical figures of personhood (Agha 2007, Dancygier 2011, Ainiala and Östman 2017). Using examples from Twitter, this preliminary analysis compares tokens of pull a Britney [Spears] and pull a Karen along their constructional and conceptual qualities. While tokens of pull a Britney evoke a specific person and event in time (Spears’ well-known mental breakdown in 2007), tokens of pull a Karen are generic in nature and index a broad array of attitudes, personality traits and behaviors. The findings of this paper support Dancygier’s (2011) claim that onomastic study should center the constructional qualities of proper names as used in real-life examples from discourse.