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Justin Kaplan and Anne Bernays’ new book, The Language of Names, is a fun read, but it falls short of providing a historical or scientific examination of how names function. In fact, it doesn’t even provide a coherent definition of “name”: Kaplan and Bernays blithely skip from personal names to place names to group names, unconcerned by the drastically different imperatives that mold each type of nomenclature. What the book is good for are things like a list of Jewish show-biz folks’ real and stage names, amusing western geographical names, and the etymologies of popular given names. Kaplan and Bernays’ Smithsonian Associates appearance is billed as a “whimsical presentation,” but it’s too bad the event is on a Tuesday night, because The Language of Names is perfect post-Sunday brunch reading. The whimsy starts at 8 p.m. at the Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW. $13. For reservations call (202) 357-3030. (James Lochart)