This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

What's in a Name? Your Roots, Perhaps

Who can forget the way that Henry Higgins, in "My Fair Lady," could pinpoint the origins in England of anyone by listening to them speak. Your accent was the guide to the place from which you came. On a global scale, names tend to serve that function. A large database of names and their geographic locations can be found in the UK at the Public Profiler website. Here I find that, consistent with my own family history information, someone with the surname of Weeks is likely to have roots in southern England. But it is not so easy if your ancestors were Africans brought as slaves to the Americas. According to the Associated Press, a new project just announced at Emory University is trying to help with that.
"The whole point of the project is to ask the African diaspora, people with any African background, to help us identify the names because the names are so ethno-linguistically specific, we can actually locate the region in Africa to which the individual belonged on the basis of the name," said David Eltis, an Emory University history professor who heads the database research team.
There are some problems, however:

Most of the millions of Africans enslaved before 1807 were known only by numbers, said James Walvin, an expert on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Once bought by slave owners, the Africans' names were lost. Africans captured by the Portuguese were baptized and given "Christian" names aboard the ships that were taking them into slavery.
But original African names — surnames were uncommon for Africans in the 19th century — are rich with information. Some reveal the day of the week an individual was born or whether that individual was the oldest, youngest or middle child or a twin. They can also reveal ethnic or linguistic groups.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting how the same applies for different ethnic groups. Here's an article I just read: