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The Nominative Minefield

Thande

The Great and Powerful Wizard, Opnohop Moy
Published by SLP
Very good article, @Thande .

Though one comment, I'm not sure whether you would normally consider Iceland to be part of Europe (I do, but this may be a geographical bias), but I'd feel remiss if I didn't bring up that if it is, Iceland still doesn't use surnames by default even now.
If you'd ask me I'd say I would normally vaguely file Iceland under Europe, but clearly I haven't internalised that because I know about Icelandic patronymics but didn't mention it there.

(I learned about these from How 2, where they mainly used it to bring up how strange the names of Fred Dibnah's forebears were when constructing Icelandic patronymics for him).

I do find it fascinating exactly which cultures tend towards the 'initial.initial.surname' approach- you see it on the Indian Subcontinent a lot as well.
I wonder when that started, it seems like it's related to having very long names but it might also be to do with repetitive names in generations.
 

napoleon IV

Fanfiction Deep State
Location
Washington, Douglass Commonwealth
Pronouns
he/him
The part on Vicky being an uncommon name prior to the Queen is fascinating, and it reminds me of the Tiffany Problem (which is the exact opposite of the Victoria Problem). Basically, Tiffany or some variant thereof was a really common name in medieval times (at the time it was short for Theophania, a name often given to girls born on the day of the Feast of the Epiphany). But Tiffany largely disappeared as a name and was only revived due to the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's. As a result, if you name a medieval character Tiffany audiences will assume you know nothing about the time period and laugh at you.
 

Indicus

<insert title here>
Location
Trawno
Pronouns
he/him
There's also the question of how surnames are standardized. In many countries, surnames were only standardized very late. For instance, in much of India they were only standardized in the 1920s, and as a result you get a lot of distinct patterns. There are caste-based surnames (Sharma, or Rathore, or Sisodia, or specifically in Bengal Banerjee or Mukherjee), and village-based names (Advani and Kripanali which are ultimately Sindhi, Ambedkar and Tendulkar which are Maharashtri, and Ahluwalia which is Punjabi), and occupational names (Fadnavis, Patil, and Patel, though my favourite has got to be Sodabottleopenerwala).

Of course, last names in India did predate colonization, most famously Singh (most typically associated with Sikhism, but it is also a Rajput last name) which tends to be a male-only last name (the female version would be Kaur for Sikh women and Kunwar for Rajput women) although this is gradually breaking apart, and also many others like "Kaul" for Kashmiri Hindus. There's also the use of "Devi" or "Kumari" for a last name which is adopted by women once they marry.

Then there's Kumar, which is a male first name but has become a last name in its own right.

That is something to keep in mind when writing about dramatically different TLs, I suppose.

I do find it fascinating exactly which cultures tend towards the 'initial.initial.surname' approach- you see it on the Indian Subcontinent a lot as well.
That's because those names can be pretty long ("Vishwanath Pratap" is pretty long, but "V. P." is not) and also because in those cases as the middle name is a mere appendage of the first name it would make more sense to shorten it through initializing. There are many cases where names are not shortened like that (like with Narendra Modi, who is never called N. D. Modi), and that's because the middle name is not an appendage of the first name but something else (in this case a patronymic).
 
Fascinating article. Thanks @Thande

I discovered a few years ago that surnames weren't used in the Netherlands until Napoleonic times when they were required by the French occupiers, which is why there are so many Dutch people with surnames like 'van Voorthuizen' which just means 'from Voorthuizen' - basically when people had to come up with a surname, they just stated where they were from. In some cases the 'van' was later dropped, but there's no consistency I've seen behind when one family dropped the 'van' and another didn't. Also, women in the Netherlands sometimes use a double-barrelled surname when they get married, but often will still be referred to by their maiden name only. The equivalent in English would be a Miss Jenny Anderson becoming Mrs Jenny Carter Anderson when she marries Mr Douglas Carter, but when people are talking just about her, she'll be Mrs Jenny Anderson, without his 'Carter' added. And her passport will have just Jenny Anderson, though it could optionally have a line stating 'spouse of Mr Douglas Carter.'

Then there's the whole issue of lots of people with the same surname in one village or area, most famously the multiple people called Jones in Wales, resulting in 'Jones the Steam*' 'Jones the Baker' 'Jones the Butcher' etc.
* Yes, that's an Ivor the Engine reference...:p

It's amazing how many people outside Scotland (Americans, I'm mostly looking at you...) think that all Scots must be called 'Mac-something'. There were more families/clans not called Mac (or Mc) something than the other way round. Ross, for example, was an important family, such that an entire region is partly named after it (Ross and Cromarty). Though admittedly most clans/families in the north-west Highlands and Islands were Mac-something, due to this being the Gaelic speaking area.
Historically, like most other areas, people in Scotland were known by who their parents were. In Gaelic, 'mac' means 'son of' so you could easily have a Donald mac Donald who was actually not a member of the MacDonald clan! And, like other languages, it's different for women. This hypothetical Donald's hypothetical sister would be called something like Mary nic Donald not Mary mac Donald. (Technically, nic is short for nighean mhic meaning daughter of the son, so Mary nic Donald theoretically means Mary daughter of MacDonald, but let's not confuse things even further.) (And yes, I've anglicised the names for clarity, sorry.)

So far, when I've needed names for short vignettes, I've used the 'look up a list of musicians or similar and mix/match a bit' approach, as noted in the article. I usually do these at random, then check that I haven't accidentally made up a 'real' name by doing a quick search on the result. If I ever write something longer, though, I'll definitely have to consider the frequency of names at the appropriate time period(s).
 

Makemakean

Rootless Rōnin
Good article, though I'm a bit disappointed that you didn't bring up one of my favourite real life examples which illustrated just how absurd some names can sound to a native speaker. There is this animé called Negima! Magister Negi Magi that is, well, it's a harem animé quite transparently inspired by Harry Potter. (Don't let the term harem manga fool you though, it's not hentai. Harem manga is just a particular genre of manga that features a single male character surrounded by nothing but female characters with your standard 'and troubles ensue'.)

Anyway, so the main character of this series is a British boy wizard, who attended a magical school in Wales and his name is--wait for it!--Negi Springfield. Why Negi? I dunno. There was something about the combination of the syllables that just sounded western to the author, I suppose. Why Springfield? Well, it's a place name appearing on maps of Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia, Ireland, etc... that's got to mean it would be a believable surname, right?

Oda Eiichiro, the best-selling mangaka of Japan, is also rather notorious for not quite having understood how Western naming conventions work, and for always treating western first names as if they were family names (because family names come first in Japan). Hence, a female character by the name of Charlotte Linlin, for instance, has children by the name of Charlotte Katakuri (male), Charlotte Perospero (male), Charlotte Mont-d'Or (male), and Charlotte Opera (male).

Of course, you can't really blame him. From his point of view, there is nothing about the sounds that make up Charlotte that would make him conclude that it's a female personal name.
 
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Guernsey Donkey

The Earl of Oxford
Patreon supporter
Good article, though I'm a bit disappointed that you didn't bring up one of my favourite real life examples which illustrated just how absurd some names can sound to a native speaker. There is this animé called Negima! Magister Negi Magi that is, well, it's a harem animé quite transparently inspired by Harry Potter. (Don't let the term harem manga fool you though, it's not hentai. Harem manga is just a particular genre of manga that features a single male character surrounded by nothing but female characters with your standard 'and troubles ensue'.)

Anyway, so the main character of this series is a British boy wizard, who attended a magical school in Wales and his name is--wait for it!--Negi Springfield. Why Negi? I dunno. There was something about the combination of the syllables that just sounded western to the author, I suppose. Why Springfield? Well, it's a place name appearing on maps of Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia, Ireland, etc... that's got to mean it would be a believable surname, right?

Oda Eiichiro, the best-selling mangaka of Japan, is also rather notorious for not quite having understood how Western naming conventions work, and for always treating western first names as if they were family names (because family names come first in Japan). Hence, a female character by the name of Charlotte Linlin, for instance, has children by the name of Charlotte Katakuri (male), Charlotte Perospero (male), Charlotte Mont-d'Or (male), and Charlotte Opera (male).

Of course, you can't really blame him. From his point of view, there is nothing about the sounds that make up Charlotte that would make him conclude that it's a female personal name.
To be fair to the springfield example, picking a random place name would give a fairly common chance of a surname its just it pick one which is clearly a compound descripting placename.

Also its interesting to note that japan is now/planning to make all people use the surname first name order when writing in Latin script rather than the other way round which was allowed for foreigners and like sometimes done for japanese names (which tended to make things slightly confusing)
 

Geordie

Benoit Beef-foot
Published by SLP
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Thinking about it, football is probably a better place to look for foreign names than most other sports, just because the breath of examples is likely to be far wider. It isn't foolproof, of course, as you may end up choosing a wildly atypical example. Anybody using Shefki Kuqi as inspiration for a finish name really needs to do enough digging to realise that he was a naturalised Kosovar, for instance. But the sheer bulk of name available, much like @Thande's example of election lists, should provide enough examples to spot patterns and themes, for those prepared to do a tiny bit of research.

Whether those and trends would work for a TL set 500 years earlier is not to be taken for granted, as others have already mentioned.
 

Kato

nec minute
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Published by SLP
Location
Birmingham
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Love this kind of thing, and the point about this level of research being so much easier now is well made. When writing vignettes I probably spend half my planning time getting names just right for the era and setting.

"Abigail" as a go to for very Late Stuart wouldn't sounds old-fashioned in 2020 is one I was particularly pleased with.

For Freedom's Rampart I tried to ensure that the 1st and 2nd gen Cantonese-New Zealander characters followed both traditional and usage conventions. Chao is the family name, Chao Kei-Lee the daughter exclusively uses her given name, or is addressed by familial forms, and at the novel's start she effectively does not exist outside the family bubble. Her father by contrast has a long standing public face of interacting with white Europeans and so is known by "Jimmy", an anglicised approximation of his real given name.

Of course, "Lee" as a false cognate between English and Cantonese names was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Every other name is very carefully chosen, a mix of plausible non-anachronistic melting pot and in-jokes sometimes obscured by translation into Scots Gaelic or German.

Of course people like me who choose their own names (late 19th century NZ social reformer, mid 20th century Liberal-Labour politician, early 21st century actress) will be a pain in the arse for future name historians. See 14th century Londoner Eleanor Rykener, who is either the first documented trans woman in English history, or else the fictional satirical invention of smug court clerks, depending on which historian you agree with. An argument for the latter point is that, for all its modern connotations with a blanket "medieval" period, "Eleanor" would have been a woefully obscure and anachronistic name in the 1390s, associated with long dead foreign queens, and not a name you'd realistically expect to be chosen by a lower class sex worker. The obvious counter argument to that is well, have you met any trans women?
 

Thande

The Great and Powerful Wizard, Opnohop Moy
Published by SLP
Fascinating article. Thanks @Thande

I discovered a few years ago that surnames weren't used in the Netherlands until Napoleonic times when they were required by the French occupiers, which is why there are so many Dutch people with surnames like 'van Voorthuizen' which just means 'from Voorthuizen' - basically when people had to come up with a surname, they just stated where they were from. In some cases the 'van' was later dropped, but there's no consistency I've seen behind when one family dropped the 'van' and another didn't.
It's interesting to contrast this with how place-based surnames developed in England; they were usually given to identify someone who'd moved from a small village to a big town (it'd be rare for someone to move from London elsewhere in such a way that being from London would be their defining characteristic). So there are loads of people in Anglophone countries with the names of tiny villages, but hardly anyone with surnames like London or York.
 

Alex Richards

She needs an artificial Mountain, not AV
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
Of course people like me who choose their own names (late 19th century NZ social reformer, mid 20th century Liberal-Labour politician, early 21st century actress) will be a pain in the arse for future name historians. See 14th century Londoner Eleanor Rykener, who is either the first documented trans woman in English history, or else the fictional satirical invention of smug court clerks, depending on which historian you agree with. An argument for the latter point is that, for all its modern connotations with a blanket "medieval" period, "Eleanor" would have been a woefully obscure and anachronistic name in the 1390s, associated with long dead foreign queens, and not a name you'd realistically expect to be chosen by a lower class sex worker. The obvious counter argument to that is well, have you met any trans women?
More to the point, Eleanor would also have been the name on the hundred-year old cross-monument located in Cheapside. Which I would have thought is a reasonable location for a lower class sex worker to be familiar with considering it was one of the major markets.
 

Kato

nec minute
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Birmingham
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More to the point, Eleanor would also have been the name on the hundred-year old cross-monument located in Cheapside. Which I would have thought is a reasonable location for a lower class sex worker to be familiar with considering it was one of the major markets.
Literally where she learned the trade and was subsequently arrested, which is the reason she survives (albeit obscured until very recently) in the historical record. I did not know that, but it's an awesome bit of background data if we do follow the hypothesis of her taking a name from what was known to her. Thank you, that might be really useful for a project I'm planning.
 

Alex Richards

She needs an artificial Mountain, not AV
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
Literally where she learned the trade and was subsequently arrested, which is the reason she survives (albeit obscured until very recently) in the historical record. I did not know that, but it's an awesome bit of background data if we do follow the hypothesis of her taking a name from what was known to her. Thank you, that might be really useful for a project I'm planning.
I mean if we take this to the logical conclusion, I wouldn't be surprised if 'Eleanor' was a common nickname for any sex worker in the market at that point either.
 
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