Archiver > GEN-MEDIEVAL > 1998-05 > 0895771883

From: Rafal Prinke< >
Subject: Re: The spelling of names
Date: 21 May 1998 10:31:23 -0700

(Doug Holmes) wrote:

>When entering names that are not English into your genealogy programs, why
>convert them into English and lose your ancestor's real identity in the
>process? If you could talk to your ancestor and called him Henry when his
>name was Henrique, he would think you're talking to someone else.

This topic recurs from time to time but there is probably no satisfactory
solution. The last time it was on, I tried to find out if there are
any standard rules in English and Polish (even e-mailed the _Chicago
Manual of Style_ staff).

The possible solutions suggested by recent posts include:

1. Modernisation + translation
2. Modernisation + native language form
3. Original form(s) as they appear in the sources

The _third_ proposition is a misunderstanding - these forms belong to
the discussion of sources and other evidence but certainly not to
the final presentation of the results of an investigation.
The most obvious point is perhaps that these sources were often foreign
to the family in question and thus any spellings can only serve as
clues (eg. Chinese names in Marco Polo).

The _second_ proposition is sensible but in many cases impractical
or even impossible. Armenian and Georgian genealogies are often
discussed on our list - but few (if any) of even the most knowledgeable
participants know even the basics of those languages. The main
compilation by Toumanoff uses French forms for Caucasian names!
And there is always the problem of using correct characters or
transliteration rules (some time ago a certain gentleman, whose name
I dare not mention for fear of unleashing his rage again, questioned
the validity of my using "ia" for a Cyrillic character - and then
I found out this is indeed correct as used by the Library of Congress,
at least). It is often overlooked by English-speaking proponents of
this solution that typing proper names using only Latin characters
(ie. without diacritics) may lead to grave errors - they may be
impossible to recognize by both their fellow speakers of English and
speakers of the language in which they pretend to be written.

More importantly, no genealogist (even of highest possible reputation)
can use only primary evidence. Even if he could read all the languages
and scripts, he must also use the accumulated knowledge of previous
generations of genealogists - if only to compare the primary data
in hand to the wider family context of the persons involved.

So the _first_ proposition above seems to be the most practical and
most widely accepted. This does not mean it is perfect, of course.
But nothing is (as we have witnessed recently when the last citadel
of absolute correctness fell).

It must also be remembered that every language has its traditions
concerning proper names. Usually major European cities have different
names in different languages, and on border areas even small villages
may have different forms. Personal given names of kings and other
major figures have their forms, and so do countries and historical
regions, as well as titles and offices. So any attempt at using
pseudo-original or pseudo-native forms will lead to funny mistakes.

A recent example of this pseudo-native approach is the (otherwise very
nice) chart _Kings & Queens of Europe_ compiled by Anne Taute (the last
character is e-acute!), illustrated by Romilly Squire, Herald Painter
Extraordinary to the Court of the Lord Lyon, and published by
the University of North Carolina Press, 1989. In a note the author says
"Names and places are in the language of the country of origin".

Looking at the kings and queens of *Polska* I just can't help laughing
how diacritics are applied rather randomly, missing where they should be
and used when not needed. Some names seem to be in no particular language
at all, eg. "Fridrik August II" of Saxony and Poland which should be
either "Fryderyk" (Polish) or "Friedrich" (native German), or else
"Frederick" (translated to English). But what language is "Fridrik"?

The nicknames are also in the native language and I wonder what the point
of such "overcorrectness" may be. Is it really helpful or pleasant
for a (mostly, I assume) American reader to twist his tongue, pen and
keyboard to have "Boleslaw III Krzywousty" (+one diacritic) or
misspelt "Kazimierz I Odnowiciel" (no diacritics - but the author/publishers
added one for free)? I guess he feels the same as when I look at
the nicknames of Scandinavian rulers.

Looking at the Russian dynasties, I find inconsistent transliteration
(ie. the same Cyrillic character is represented by different Latin
letters in different places).

This shows how difficult it is to proof-read the data in languages
other than one's own - and how the results of our painstaking
research may be criticised for relatively unimportant errors
of "supercorrectness" (the very concept of which is the result
of projecting our modern notions of the written word onto the past).

Finally - which is not strictly on the topic but also concerns
standardisation - the chart uses graphic symbols for various pieces
of genealogical information. This would be very nice - there is such
a system used in continental Europe and it helps greatly in making
genealogical tables language independent (as anyone consulting ES knows).
But alas! some of the symbols are the same, while others are different!
Such attitude leads directly to total confusion!

And now a small test: how should we type the name of Copernicus?
Everyone knows who he was, so no explanation is necessary.
But his nationality (a 19th c. concept itself) is uncertain,
he did not rule over any territory (unless we assume the Solar System
to be his realm), his first language is not known - but he spoke several.

Best regards,


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