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An expression of thanks, and a word of advice (or at least an adverting to available resources) - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
An expression of thanks, and a word of advice (or at least an adverting to available resources)
I must begin by thanking several of my friends for the, ah, spiders. (Ignore the screaming the background, it’s only Ron Weasley.)
As I plough the fields and scatter through fest postings, so many of them very excellent indeed, I notice once again a point I (wearily, and, no doubt, to many wearisomely and tiresomely) must raise. Surnames. Particularly for original characters.
The United States and Canada and Australia are of course celebrated as melting-pots. I believe it was the great and always witty Robert Benchley who wrote, almost a century ago, now, in The New Yorker, that Americans call Britain ‘the Mother Country because so many of [them] are from Germany’, ancestrally.
This is even now far less the case in the UK. Internal immigration amongst the Home Nations has put the Welshest of Evanses in Calderdale, O’Gormans in Norwich, McAuleys in Brighton, and so on. In-migration from Commonwealth countries has enriched us with Singhs and Patels and Khans (and thank God, or county cricket and high street nosh alike should be in a parlous state). And since the days of Cromwell – the one thing the old bastard can be applauded for – England has once again been a refuge for, and benefitted hugely from, Jewish immigration. (Scotland alone in Europe has never seen a State persecution of Jewry.) More recently, people have come from the Continent in much greater numbers than in the past to enrich the fabric of British life (and food).
Nevertheless, unless a character is specifically intended to be Asian or Oriental or African or what have you, by and large you want a British surname for him. (This is true equally, I may add, for the Black British, whose surnames are almost invariably British in derivation.) Britain simply is not – as apparently the United States is, and other overseas nations in the Anglosphere) – stuffing with Schwartzes and Kowalskis and Gruenwalds and Antonellis and Sanchezes all living in the same street as and cheek by jowl with Dawes and Smiths and Coggses and Joneses and Gowans and Roes and Gilberts, and the occasional Gordon, Rahman, Flaherty, and Gwynn. Still less is this so in towns and villages.
The Surname Profiler, to which I have adverted before – many, many times – has considerable utility here. I have mentioned before that, if you want to know where a character whose surname is a given, a datum, might well live, you use the 1881 search. By way of example, let’s try ‘Corner’. Here’s the 1881 distribution map; here, the deeper locational information; here, the 1998 map, showing geographic changes. From which one can decide where to place Our Michael’s family if we choose (and pick up a tip for the 3.20 at Redcar).
But let us assume you have an original character, and you’ve an idea of her background, and you want a name. We can do that also. Let’s assume it’s a Greengrass cousin. The Surname Profiler tells us, if we don’t know it already, that Greengrass is an East Anglian surname. Now: if we go to the search page and search by category of names, we get choices: in this case, by choosing ‘English – other’, we are offered a subsidiary set of options, of which one is ‘Regional’; choosing which opens a further set of choices, including ‘East Anglian’. Search for 1881 East Anglian names and see what you find. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
Equally, archive, census, and genealogy sites – reputable ones – tend to have surname lists. Again, as I try not to make my remarks All Wessex All the Sodding Time, let’s take Rutland as an example. Here are 1881 census statistics broken down by categories and location; here, a Rutland surnames list; here, links suggested by GENUKI.
Less rootedly, here are lists of the most common surnames in Britain; the most common surnames by origin; and the most common surnames by county in the 1881 census.
Do use these wisely, won’t you? I do hate to be quite enjoying a story only to be brought up short by the Aurors and the Minister, who could perfectly acceptably and plausibly be Gathercoal, Snell, Gupta, Cundick, Popejoy, Macintosh, Gough, Khan, Solomons, Dowd, and Gaisford, being named as Garcia, Schmidt, Nguyen, Horvath, Rossi, Muller, Schwarzkopf, Huang, Georgiou, Meyer, and Pedersen. If they are, there’d dammed well best be a Very Suasive Back-story.

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fpb From: fpb Date: October 29th, 2011 08:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I tried to make a similar point about Blaise Zabini a few years back. I got called a racist for my pains.
tiferet From: tiferet Date: October 29th, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not sure why that happened, but people were giving me a great deal of crap for saying that Zabini is a surname that can be traced to several specific reasons of Italy (I'd written quite a bit of fic involving Blaise), even though I pointed out that having an Italian parent or Italian ancestry in no way means you can't be a black person.

There were all these people trying to come up with ways to make Zabini an African name or an Arabic one; I could not believe the mental gymnastics people were going through trying to deny that that is an Italian name. Even though most of the people who were doing this are American--most black people in America don't have African or Arabic surnames any more than they do in the UK.

It's so simple to just accept that he's the product of an interracial marriage or relationship and has mixed ancestry! I don't understand the objections and never did. Given his mother's canonical habits there is no reason to believe that her surname is the same as his, if one really wants to believe she's African and not British; she's probably using either her maiden name or the name of her current mark. (Though if she's not a black British witch I would assume she came to Britain to marry someone. Given her habits.)

Anyhow I never understood why people called either of us racist for expressing surprise that he turned out to be black when most black people don't have Italian names, or for maintaining that the name was still Italian, even though the character is black.

I think people forget that all the names Rowling used are real names--even Malfoy and Zabini. When I went by the name Azalais Malfoy in fandom I occasionally ran into folks who thought Malfoy was my actual name, not a pen name.
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: October 29th, 2011 11:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Roy Campanella.
tiferet From: tiferet Date: October 30th, 2011 12:38 am (UTC) (Link)
That's true, there are some; it's just more unusual than non-Italian names. I wasn't surprised that anyone else turned out to be black or white or otherwise, just Blaise, because I had a mental picture that went with the name.
fpb From: fpb Date: October 29th, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Scotland alone... has never seen a persecution of Jewr."
Scotland and Rome.
fpb From: fpb Date: October 29th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
OH, and Scotland is full of Italian immigrants. A Rossi would be by no means out of place in Glasgow or Ayr.
blamebrampton From: blamebrampton Date: October 30th, 2011 02:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Nor a Dario Franchitti, bless his speedy socks ;-)
el_staplador From: el_staplador Date: October 30th, 2011 10:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Ditto Paul di Resta (and I hope he makes up a few more places..._
blamebrampton From: blamebrampton Date: October 30th, 2011 10:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Alas, not looking good. Maybe Lewis will take out a few more cars and help him out?
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 30th, 2011 06:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

In order (of yr 3 posts)...

1. Yes, well, people are idiots.
2. Arguable, but that's an argument you'll want to have with Daiches, not me.
3. Obvs. I've mentioned that not infrequently.

Edited at 2011-10-30 09:26 pm (UTC)
fpb From: fpb Date: October 30th, 2011 11:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: In order (of yr 3 posts)...

1) To make matters clearer (since tiferet seems, through my fault, to have got hold of the wrong end of the stick), I argued that such a name as "Blaise Zabini" would be untypical of a dark-skinned person in England - for pretty much the reasons you mention here; and that since elsewhere JKR has been pretty adherent to current reality, it seemed arbitrary to invent a black man with an obviously Italian - or at most French or Corsican - name. As a matter of fact, in my fic "The Dark Star" I Arabized the boy's father as "Al-Mansour Al Zabini" - which is eminently possible assuming that a place named Zabin exists. Muslim names in Britain are a dime a dozen, and dark skins often if not always go with them - check our running champion "Mo" Farrah.

2) There is no need to discuss anything; it is a fact, easily checked by anyone, that the Pope's kingdom of Rome has never persecuted (harrassed, yes; persecuted, no) or expelled the Jews. A decree of Gregory I the Great, called Sicut Iudaeis, established into law the principle of equal protection for Jews, and since then Rome has been the one place where Jews were safe from pogroms and expulsion. I am told that there are Jewish families in Rome who can reckon their descent, father to son, to the year 250AD. Incidentally, another thing that never happened in Papal Rome were witch-hunts; I am told that in all the 1300 years of history of Papal government, only one case of execution of a witch is known. And that makes sense. Even though one order - my favourite, alas, the Dominicans - has a lousy history in this field, and most Catholic witch-hunts that are not merely the result of popular superstition can be connected with Dominic's preachers, most church doctrine from the beginning has been that witchcraft does not really exist and that even people who confess to it are to be regarded as deluded. You will find this in all sort of Church documents from Irenaeus to mediaeval church councils to recent divines. The Church has always known far too much about the tricks by which false miracles and false wonders are brought about; Irenaeus alone has a whole handbook of them.
fpb From: fpb Date: October 30th, 2011 11:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: In order (of yr 3 posts)...

wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 31st, 2011 10:24 am (UTC) (Link)

What is arguable...

... is whether that cd comprise State (non-)persecution in that there is no secular arm as such in this situation and the secular lord is the holder of the see. The term 'State persecution' is meant to be precise; of you prefer, read it as 'secular persecution'.

And as to the other point, I repeat, there is no implausibility in a Zabini in Britain, there is nothing odd about Black Britons, mixed marriages are much more common nowadays, and La Rowling utterly failed to signal anything of the sort, such that you, Tiferet, and I are all perfectly correct. (As names go, we are all I think agreed that, obvs, 'Dean Thomas' is a fair clue that the character is Black British; 'Blaise Zabini' is not. Wh is of course the whole point here.)
fpb From: fpb Date: October 31st, 2011 12:28 pm (UTC) (Link)

You're quibbling

The Pope as King was his own secular arm (that is why Napoleon first, Victor Emmanuel after, confiscated the Quirinal Palace - the ROYAL seat - but left to the Pope the Vatican - seat of the worldwide Church - and the Lateran Palace, which is the seat of the Bishop of Rome), and certainly had no problems about carrying out executions when needed. The guillotine was in regular use in Rome sixty years before it was adopted in France, and for much the same reason - scruples about the duration and pain of executions. Executions,like all other state business, were carried out in nome del Papa Re, that is, grammatically, "in the name of [our] King, the Pope". That is why the arms of the Pope as King, now obsolete, include two swords: one is the sword of the spiritual power, the other that of the royal power.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 31st, 2011 02:59 pm (UTC) (Link)


I am NOT quibbling.

Rather, I am, or have been, going quite bootlessly out of my way to strive for clarification as to a citation, the assessment being not mine but Daiches', whilst once again displaying truly unnatural patience with the fashion in which everybloodyone else is content to display their King Charles' Heads, hijack the discussion such as it was, and trot out their several hobby horses from stables as far removed as the Vatican and bien-pensant Manhattan.

So, once more with feeling. Daiches said that Scotland (the Kingdom of Scots as such) was arguably alone in Europe in not having had a secular, State persecution of Jewry. You demurred. I proposed what I thought Daiches meant. You consider that a quibble. Fine. Fascinating. Wholly off the original point.

I'm perfectly serious, I'm getting to where I no longer give a fuck. Americans! Overseas writers and readers! Go forth and rejoice! Send Harry to the shopping mall! Site Hermione's 'vacation home' on 'the outskirts of Nottinghamshire'! Give us British Wizards named Muller, Gruenwald, Kleinwald, and Holzer - and none named Amir or Khan or Begum! Congratulate yourselves on Celebrating Wizardkind's Superior Diversity based on a misreading of British immigration patterns! Make Jim Bob LaFayette the next Minister of Magic - and make certain he runs for the job instead of standing for election! Don't forget a big graduation party and a senior prom at Hogwarts! Give everyone manors and guilds and cod-pagan traditions! Plunder, pillage, and rape canon with a light heart! And if anyone bothers to suggest otherwise, don't worry, the thread will get bogged down by everyone else's obsessions soon enough, be it Upper East Side diversity quotas or the Donation of Pepin!

Honestly, why do I bother? Why do I bother at all, be it Britpicking, attempting to aid with resources and editing, posting, writing? Voice in the wilderness? Christ, I'm mute in a garden centre. Fandom knows what it likes, and what it likes is to bugger canon, so why really do I bother?

Sod it.

Edited at 2011-10-31 03:03 pm (UTC)
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: October 31st, 2011 03:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, dear...

Have a cup of chamomile tea, and write us a proper British story. Just put some dancing in it, and we'll all shut up about everything else.

Except spotted dick. That will never not be funny to Americans.
fpb From: fpb Date: October 31st, 2011 04:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oh, dear...

And, these latter days, to quite a few Brits. I suspect that many locals have never looked at one in the face - I live here since 1977, and I know I haven't.

There also are things such as jellied eels, fried bread or mushy peas, which are still in vigorous use, but only in very precise areas of the community. I have a friend from Stoke-on-Trent who swears that there was a convoy of aid, raised in her town for people in the war-torn Balkans, that could not set out until the drivers had been provided with a proper supply of the local oatcakes, since they could not be expected to find them on the road....
el_staplador From: el_staplador Date: October 31st, 2011 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oh, dear...

Except spotted dick. That will never not be funny to Americans.

I had some for pudding yesterday lunch, and jolly good it was too.
fpb From: fpb Date: October 31st, 2011 04:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: No.

I swear I don't understand this outburst. You say: the Kingdom of Scotland never, as a state, persecuted or expelled Jews. Fine. I reply: the Kingdom of Rome (whose king happened to be the Pope) never, as a state, did so either. That does not contradict anything you said, much less deny your status as an expert in matters British. Other Italian states - I know this for a fact about the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany - did expel them; in one case, a Grand Duke of Tuscany also summoned them to his duchy - and in particular to the trading harbour of Leghorn - because he wanted a part of the extra trade they were supposed to bring. Why should any of this bother you?
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 31st, 2011 05:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

The one thing I do know is that you're honest.

I know you don't understand, really. It's rather reassuring.

It's my fault. I ought not have contributed to the derailing of my own point by attempting to defend the statement by Daiches which was purely unnecessary to the argument to begin with. And I ought to have known that the entire point of anything I had to say should inevitably be derailed, sooner or later, on just such a side-issue, by one or another fellow anorak - I being one also - who does not distinguish between the entire thrust of the post and a side issue, however important from the perspective of true scholarship.

It really doesn't matter. Had it not been this, it'd've been something else.
squibstress From: squibstress Date: October 29th, 2011 08:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Tip o' the hat to you for the advice. I find naming the occasional OC who finds his or her sorry way into my fic an enormous chore. I've been making do with one of those random name-generating websites that purport to give one plausible names based on nationality, but it doesn't provide surnames. For the most part, I've simply cribbed from the various lists on the Potter Wiki and HPL, justifying it to myself with the assumption that the wizarding population of Britain is fairly small and relatively closed.

Gratefully adding the Surname Profiler to my resource list.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 30th, 2011 06:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Always happy to be of service.

Any time.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: October 29th, 2011 10:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
What a splendid site! I hadn't come across it before, but it promises hours of innocent amusement...
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 30th, 2011 06:33 pm (UTC) (Link)

Hours indeed.

sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: October 29th, 2011 11:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

Greengrass, East Anglian?

What fun! Over here, names like that are German-Jewish unless proven otherwise. Can I please keep my Jewish Greengrasses? I want Draco in a yarmulke at Scorpius' Bar Mitzvah...
tiferet From: tiferet Date: October 30th, 2011 12:38 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Greengrass, East Anglian?

I think that is hilarious.
(Deleted comment)
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: October 30th, 2011 01:34 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Greengrass, East Anglian?

Love the site! Let's plan Scorpius' Bar Mitzvah together!
(Deleted comment)
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: October 30th, 2011 01:46 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Greengrass, East Anglian?

Done. His Hebrew name is Shem.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 30th, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Of course you may.

(Deleted comment)
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: October 30th, 2011 01:37 am (UTC) (Link)


You'd think Garcia would be more acceptable than Cundick...
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 30th, 2011 06:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well, no, actually.

'I think we can all agree that wizarding names in JKR's world run the gamut from normal to downright bizarre, and skew heavily toward the latter.'

Not really. No. Not by British standards. Vide resources adverted to in post.

'The idea that names like Blaise Zabini are utterly unremarkable in the wizarding world is one of the things I love most about the universe JKR created. It's one of the most important differences between Muggle and magical folk and suggests that normal patterns of immigration and intermarriage don't apply to wizards.'

No. Absolutely not. Not if you take, as I am hoping to get people to take, 'normal patterns of immigration and intermarriage' as being BRITISH patterns instead of this ruddy Americanisation in fandom. There's no difference to celebrate, except by an American misinterpretation.

Blaise Zabini is very plausible in Britain. Including his skin colour, in the end. The Italo-British are nothing new (to the benefit of our ice cream, chips shops, arts, orchestral conducting) any more than are Black Britons. What's implausible is the mindless usage of surnames that reflect the diversity of a Dubuque suburb, presuming that American patterns are at all like British. But I realise I'm only managing to obscure my points, so I'll try again another time.
(Deleted comment)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 30th, 2011 08:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

I knew this was going pear-shaped.

The motive force behind my posting this advice can be described as reaction to the unthinking use of atypical surnames by overseas writers. Not, as it happens, by you. I point you to pennynovelette's comment as being my main point; my subsidiary point, that there's a right way and wrong way to make British characters plausible, is simply getting tangled just now - due to my own frustrated inability to be clear - and is being taken, I fear, personally, in ways I don't attend.
(Deleted comment)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 30th, 2011 09:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Of course you must do as you think best.

As must other overseas writers whose tendencies sparked this post. It mayn't bother them in the least to consider that surnames that are almost but not quite British ('Camerons' - with an 's' - as a surname, for one) and surnames that are Continental in ways that one doesn't expect suggest I think to British readers respectively (a) incompetence or inattention and (b) that the OC unless explained went to Beauxbatons or Durmstrang.
(Deleted comment)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 31st, 2011 10:27 am (UTC) (Link)

In hopes of clarity:

When I refer to 'them' ('writers other than the commenting party', 'writers I am not currently discussing things with'), I mean 'not the writer I'm speaking with'. Particularly when the errors I am complaining of are distinguished from anything the 'writer I'm speaking with' - 'you' - may or mayn't have done.
(Deleted comment)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 31st, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

That's a misreading, I think.

It misrepresents me as saying that the presence of a smallish ethnic minority in Britain (and, by extension, occasionally in fic) requires explanation.

But it really doesn't matter any longer. We're getting nowhere here.
(Deleted comment)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 31st, 2011 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

I realise that.

And it really doesn't matter.
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: October 30th, 2011 08:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Diversity in Dubuque?

Doubt it.

Cundick. Heh heh...
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 30th, 2011 06:35 pm (UTC) (Link)


Thank you, vy perceptive of you. Better than I put it.
(Deleted comment)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: October 31st, 2011 10:28 am (UTC) (Link)


And you point to one of many reasons why it is Femme's the best of us.
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