Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
There's a lot to be said for the name of a thing--names can represent different functions or viewpoints for the same object, or show the object's existence in different cultures or environments. Especially when focused on objects from the past, the name of an object is given before or at the same time as the image of the object itself, thus permanently linking the name and the image of an object together in the human mind. You can see the importance of names in this way from many angles--for instance, the thought that goes into the name of a commercial product, or a name that's meant to conjure up certain emotions. Naturally, then, it makes sense that the Tommy Gun has gone through a few names during its existence, each of which highlights a certain point in time or a certain function and intent.
So, how does this tie into the social aspect of the Tommy Gun? Actually, in a sense the different names parallel the way the Tommy Gun has grown into different social niches--from a military gun called the Thompson Submachine Gun to a gun used by the mafia called the Chicago Typewriter. The name doubles back to the first time the object was used in a certain manner whenever it is used in that manner again: the Thompson Submachine Gun in World War II, the Chicago Typewriter in gangster movies everywhere from the 1930's until today. In this way the "Tommy Gun" name almost seems like a middle ground between two extreme social positions, taking a hint from the official name and yet tweaking it a bit to symbolizes how the function has slightly changed. This might also be why "Tommy Gun" is the term most used today, since it has the most balanced history behind it and thus encapsulates as much of the story of the gun as possible.