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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.
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 ;-)
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)
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.
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.
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sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: October 30th, 2011 01:37 am (UTC) (Link)


You'd think Garcia would be more acceptable than Cundick...
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39 comments or Leave a comment