What is the first name EVER to be written in human history?

I once read a thesis that the Greek written language started with the writing of the Illiad and the Odyssey. What a marvelous way to start one’s language! Greek probably didn’t start that way, but I always remembered that tidbit fondly. It had me wondering about the potentially enchanting reasons for humans to first start recording items for posterity. What would it have been? What powerful emotions drew people to create and record something in writing? What compelling experiences could not be allowed to be forgotten? It brings to mind the quote from Dead Poets Society… (to the right.)

So what was the first bit of writing? I recently found out. Yes, yet another revelation I’ve had from the work of Yuval Noah Harari, the author of the phenomenal book Sapiens. So what was the first signed document in recorded history, and who signed it? It is unknown if it was the actual name of the signer or his title, but he was still the first one whose “name” recorded.

Was the first bit of writing a declaration of love? The recipe for happiness? The meaning of life? It turns out it was nothing of the kind. The first signed human record was clay tablet by “Kushim” (the first signer’s name/title) and contained an administrative record of 135,000 liters of barley received over 37 months. I guess Benjamin Franklin was more than right about what’s eternal…

When the great philosopher Bertrand Russell was asked in the 1950s what message he would convey to humanity 1,000 years in the future, he had a quick, 2-pronged answer (the 2 minute video, in all its glory of 1950s film quality is viewable to the right), the first part of his answer was “intellectual” and the second part of this answer was “moral.”

What would your message be to a future generation far in the future? What would you have liked the very first message from our past to have been to us?

41 thoughts on “What is the first name EVER to be written in human history?

    1. It’s funny how his words from almost a century ago sound like they were tailor made for today? He has so many great quotes that sound like they were said… today, like “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” I’m struggling not to add two more here…

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  1. Following Russell’s dichotomy of Intellectual and moral, I’ll say my advice is: think for yourself & be kind. Do those things consistently and there might be hope for a better future.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For future….hmmmm….we keep making the same fundamental errors…it’s only the particulars that change. From the past- everything we do will impact something else

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WOW. Caps intentional. Yes. Like the Fear Litany in Dune “Fear is the mind killer, fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.”

      I love what AND how you said it. Words to etch on our hearts and live by. LOVE IT (and sadly, fall into that 9-out-of-10 trap more often than I’d like to admit …)!

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  3. So many fascinating questions in this post! And ones I’ve never considered like what was the first thing written. I love the whole line of inquiry that you’ve started here in this thought-provoking, as always, post.

    To build on Mark’s thread, I’m kind of partial to the opening line from Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

    While what the first writing actually was lacks a little imagination, it’s funny that it is still very understandable and relatable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Wynne, I truly appreciate that!

      May I ask what Mark’s thread is?

      And, yes, what wonderful, balanced line that is. It IS the age of wisdom, and of horrifying foolishness. It IS the season of light, and yet of despairing darkness. What a great line you picked, Wynne! And it brings hope to know that even in the past it seemed that we faced these issues and survived, and yet it brings pain to know that we learned so little that we’re trapped making the same mistakes all over again…

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  4. I had to choose between 5 Russell quotes in my personal list, I’ll add one here: “Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so.” Bertrand Russell

    I’m disinclined to believe that particular theory of the first writing. Perhaps it’s the first found but it’s not logical to say it’s the first. To sign your name your people had to have developed an alphabet and in this case, they developed enough words and numbers to make lists and to create names. That suggests writing had been going on for a while, but perhaps not on clay tablets. I admit to being a bit persnickety here but I that’s just me.

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    1. Wow. Bertrand Russell had a wonderful knack for hitting nails smack on the head in the most succinct way! May I ask what the other 4 quotes were?

      You are right. I clearly was a little too brief. This is the first discovered signed document. It is by no means the first writing. And quite possibly not the first signed document, just the oldest one discovered to date. Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens, pointed out that writing first emerged in “partial alphabets” ones suited not for expressing any idea, but for recording lists, mostly lists of administrative nature that we (humans) are not well suited to remember. Some of us—not me, sadly—may be able to memorize all of Shakespeare’s works, they are stories and we do much better at remembering those. Long administrative lists like how many sacks of wheat X grew or gave or owes are not what we have evolved to remember, and so the earliest writings were able to record lists to enable large empires to exist. Eventually, full alphabets were developed that were able to record any idea were developed, too.

      What happened before we see evidence for it? I don’t feel like that’s persnickety, I feel like that’s wondrous curiosity that leads to more discoveries!

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      1. Thank you for the full explanation. That makes much more sense. And it’s interesting. I need to read more about the development of language. A partial alphabet probably replaced pictographs as life grew more complicated, and it makes sense that it first was used for lists as trade became part of our way of life. Very cool.

        As for Mr. Russell, here are the other quotes in my personal list. I think that I stopped there because it was becoming a long list of Bertrand Russell quotes. I recently made a version of my old quotation webpage that I developed when I was learning to code. It’s not as pretty but at least I can easily access the quotes. You can explore if desired at https://zazamataz.wordpress.com/quotations/ How odd. I think one of my last revisions of my list included a bunch of Robert A. Heinlein quotes. Specifically about his religious views. They seem to have disappeared. I wonder if I have them in my files somewhere. Anyway —->

        “I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.” Bertrand Russell
        “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” Bertrand Russell
        “One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways.” Bertrand Russell
        “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” Bertrand Russell

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        1. I believe I have found a kindred spirit! That is a terrific list of quotes, I’m going to have a good time slowly reading through it, did I mention I love quotes myself?

          I’ve learned so much from the author of Sapiens: he has a wonderful way of presenting complicated ideas simply and helping one embrace new concepts to displace old ones (and since you said you liked Heinlein quotes, it reminds me of his “The hardest part of gaining any new idea is sweeping out the false idea occupying that niche.”) I was/am surprised about how many misconception I’ve had about our history as a people.

          The second Bertrand Russell quote is one I had printed and posted on my wall at work for the longest time… The others are simply wonderful, and sadly, true. Another quote that often comes to mind after reading Bertrand Russell is Abba Eban’s “History teaches us that men and nations only behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”

          If you find the link to your other stash of quotes, please don’t be shy about sharing!

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          1. I am glad to find a kindred spirit! I do love quotes, especially the quotes that say what I want to say so much better than I can say it. Those are a couple of excellent thoughts to add to my list, which is already kind of out of control. I believe I gave away my copy of Bartlett’s. I wonder if there is a digital version?

            I’m not sure that men and nations ever behave wisely. Perhaps they have just not exhausted every hare brained alternative.

            I think, by the way, that when I added the Heinlein quotes I put it in a separate link with a warning that some people would find them offensive. That may be why they’re located somewhere different from these. Hmm.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Indeed, like “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not sure about the universe.” 🙂

              I guess you’re right, there are so many different ways to be stupid, that men and nations are still going through them. Maybe like
              https://despair.com/products/idiocy/

              I’ve not known Heinlein to be offensive in his writing, where most of his quotes come from, I rather found him very insightful (even if I don’t agree 100% with EVERYTHING he says 🙂 ). But how can one argue with his “You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic.”?

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