Peter Geach, Mental Acts, Chapter 16 (RKP, 1957) is eminently relevant to present concerns and quite sensible. Herewith, an interpretive summary. Per usual, I take the ball and run with it.
Geach rejects the Russellian view that ordinary proper names are definite descriptions in disguise, but he also rejects the notion that proper names have no connotation at all. As for the disguised description view, it is "palpably false" since " . . . when I refer to a person by a proper name, I need not either think of him explicitly in a form expressible by a definite description, or even be prepared to supply such a description on demand. . ." (pp. 66-67)
This seems correct. Thomas Aquinas once came up in a conversation I had with my unlettered brother-in-law. The latter said something like, "Aquinas was a big name in Catholic theology." My brother-in-law was undoubtedly referring to the same person I was referring to even though he would not have been able to supply even one definite description. Recall that to be definite a description must be of the form, the unique x such that [insert description]. 'A big name in Catholic theology' is an indefinite description.
Geach also provides an interesting critique of Quine's "intransigent" extension of the Russellian line whereby names are transformed into predicates. Thus for Quine 'Pegasus is winged' goes over into something like 'There is exactly one x such x pegasizes, and x is winged.' Perhaps we will discuss Geach's Quine critique in a separate post.
Geach also rejects the view that ordinary proper names -- which, nota bene, are to be distinguished from logically proper names -- are devoid of connotation. On this view, "no attributes logically follow from a thing's being given a proper name." (67) Proper names are bestowed by fiat, whence it follows that there is no right or wrong about the application of a name: there is no property possession of which by a thing is a necessary condition of the name's being attached to it. It is different in the case of a general term. If 'fat' is true of Al, it follows that there is a property in virtue of whose possession by Al the term is correctly applied to him. By contrast, on the view under consideration, we cannot speak of a name being true of its nominatum, or not true of it.
As I said, Geach rejects this theory of names according to which the meaning of a name is exhausted by its reference. In the typical case, the same name applies to a person throughout his life from infancy to dotage. Geach takes this to imply that "the baby, the youth, the adult, are one and the same man." (69) They are not the same absolutely, or the same thing, but the same man. Here Geach sounds his theme of the sortal-relativity of identity. One cannot say sensibly of two things that they are the same absolutely; what one can say is that they are the same relative to some sortal under which both fall. If so,
. . . my application of the proper name is justified only if (e.g.)
its meaning includes its being applicable to a man and I keep on
applying it to one and the same man. On this account of proper
names, there can be a right and wrong about the use of proper
This jives with what I was saying earlier about 'God.' The notion that 'God' could denote anything at all, whether a sense of fear, a bolt of lightning, or what have you, strikes me as absurd. But that is the consequence one must swallow if one thinks of names as mere external tags devoid of sense. Geach now considers an objection:
It has often been argued that it cannot be part of the meaning of a
proper name that its bearer should be a man, because we cannot tell
this by hearing the name, and because there is nothing to stop us
from giving the same name to a dog or a mountain. You might as well
argue that it cannot be part of the meaning of 'beetle' that what
it is applied to must be an insect, because we cannot learn this
meaning just from the sound of the words, and because 'beetle' is
also used for a sort of mallet. In a given context, the sense of
'beetle' does include: being an insect, and the sense of
'Churchill' does include: being a man. (70)
What Geach is saying here contradicts what our friend Edward maintains, namely, that ordinary proper names are tags whose meaning is exhausted by their reference. Suppose a one-eared rabbit wanders into my yard and I give it the name 'Gulky.' Just before the moment of baptism, the arbitrary sound 'Gulky' has no meaning at all. At the moment of baptism, it acquires a meaning which is its referent. Now suppose the rabbit wanders off and a coyote comes into the yard and I say, 'There's Gulky again.' You say,'That's not Gulky, Gulky's a rabbit!' The point here is that once 'Gulky' is introduced as a name for a particular rabbit, it acquires not only a referent but also the connotation rabbit-name, a connotation that prevents me from applying that name to anything other than a rabbit.
And then one day the coyote kills Gulky. Does 'Gulky' cease to be a rabbit-name and go back to being a meaningless sound?
As Geach says, there can be a right and wrong about the use of a proper name. Having introduced 'Gulky' as the name of a rabbit, I misuse that name if I apply it to a coyote. But if proper names are tags whose meaning is exhausted by their reference, then this would not be a misuse at all. Ergo, etc.
My point is that this is a non sequitur:
1. Reference of proper names is direct, i.e., not routed through sense.
2. The meaning of a proper name is exhausted by its reference.