For purposes of answering the question of who is the earliest person in history whose name we know, it will be assumed that we all know we are talking about having solid, tangible proof of a real person in history, not any religious names like Adam and Eve, or anyone we cannot definitively say, “Yes, this person existed.” The earliest recorded name we have come across as human beings digging up the past is Kushim. There’s a little bit of debate over whether this was an actual name or a title, but this is what we have so far.
What proof do we have?
There were a number of clay tablets from the Uruk period (3,400 B.C. to 3,000 B.C.) discovered in the Mesopotamia area (modern Iraq) with rebus writing on them. One of them has a sort of trade transaction recorded on it saying, “29,086 measures of barley 37 months Kushim.” The writing notes there will be 29,086 measures of barley provided over a 37-month period, signed in the cuneiform symbols “KU” and “ŠIM,” or “Kushim.” That isn’t the only one either. There are 18 tablets that have that name engraved, and many others that do not bear that name but were likely written by the same person’s hand. It is believed that the oldest of these dates somewhere between 3,300 and 3,100 B.C.
Was Kushim a name or a title?
The fact that various of these tablets say the name Kushim on them has been the topic of much debate as to whether the person was signing their name or their title as the office holder. Specifically, a type of accountant, given that what is written on the tablet is an account of measures of barley. So, this is not only proof of the first recorded name, but proof that the struggle has been real at least since then. I like to think that Kushim was all up in that hustle. Kushim was dealing in that beer, making sh*t happen! Back to the name/occupation question, though. It was common for people in ancient times to adopt their occupation as a name. For example, the common English name Smith is both a name and an occupation. It is likely that Kushim would answer to anyone calling him Kushim the same way an ancient metal worker would answer to someone calling out, “Hey, Smith!”