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Hello, I am

Hello, I am [name].

A common statement, but, in my opinion, utterly fascinating. Let me show you why.

Saying that I am Maynard communicates that my name is Maynard. Simple enough, and I could instead say:

My name is Maynard.

However, the way these two phrases work is entirely different and worthy of study.

The best way to start to understand what's going on here is to interrogate the main verb, is/am. For sentences of the form x is/am y, the semantics of the sentences are: x and y refer to the same thing. Think of, for instance, my cat is my best friend: this sentence tells us that the phrase my cat and the phrase my best friend both refer to the same fuzzy real-life being.

My name is

The second sentence, My name is Maynard, is the simpler of the two.

From our understanding of what is means, we learn the semantics of the phrase My name is Maynard: that My name and Maynard refer to the same thing. Interestingly, by revealing the sentences' semantics, we haven't yet reached the intended meaning of the phrase: there's still more work to do. Namely, we must note that the phrase Maynard refers to the literal name Maynard. Then, since My name and Maynard refer to the same thing, then My name also refers to the name Maynard. Thus, we finally conclude that my name is Maynard.

That's a surprising amount going on for such a simple sentence. The other sentence is even more interesting.

I am

With I am Maynard, we can again start with is, which this time is an am. The am tells us that the semantics of this sentence are: I and Maynard refer to the same thing. Curiously, where in the previous sentence, Maynard referred to the name Maynard, the same isn't true in this sentence, since that would nonsensically mean that I am equal to the name Maynard.

Instead, all this sentence gives us is that I and Maynard refer to the same thing. It's rather like the vacuous statement "x = y", from which it seems like we can't conclude anything meaningful. However, clearly we do: because from reading "I am Maynard", one understands that my name is Maynard. What gives?

We're pulling a rather clever meta-level trick to glean extra information. Where the references x and y don't really tell us anything about the thing they reference, the reference Maynard does: since we recognize it as a human name, we conclude that the thing it references has the name Maynard.

So we've learned that the thing that Maynard references has the name Maynard. We had already found out (from the use of am) that I and Maynard reference the same thing. Lastly, we can observe that I references, well, me. From these three realizations combined, we are finally able to discover what the sentence was about the whole time: that my name is Maynard.

Both of these sentences are immediately understood by just about any reader. And yet, there's a fascinating amount of machinery working behind-the-scenes in each: the reader must grok the meaning of is and am and be able to perform simple logic regarding equal references. Additionally, they need to understand that I refers to the speaker or author. And in the case of I am Maynard, the reader also needs the cultural context that some references, like Maynard, give us information about what they reference.

And, shit, that's kinda cool. I hope you never look at a nametag the same way again.