What’s in a name in 1914, in 2014?

Elian Carsenat, namsor.com

This month, starting 25th of August, the University of Glasgow will host the 25th International Congress of Onomastic Sciences, the premier conference in the field of name studies.

For this occasion, we have started to calibrate NamSor software to recognize Scottish names. This is work in progress, but I’d like to share some preliminary data visualizations of regional names.

2014 marks 100 years since the start of the First World War. All across Europe and beyond, families lost dear ones, children were raised without knowing their father and grand-children were born in the aftermath of this trauma – only to live another global war, WWII. Let’s respect the people who died in both wars, and let’s also listen to the message their names convey to us about who they were, about who we are.

What do personal names tell us about the world in 1914?

In 1914, Europe was composed of Nations and Nations of Regions with deeply rooted people. This was the situation before the massive rural exodus and before the international migration flows caused by either decolonization or what we call today ‘globalization’. This first global war was fought by local people who lived close by among themselves, married in their local community, often spoke their own local language…

Scottish names

We’ve analysed the Commonwealth War Grave Commission (CWGC) database to see if we could correlate onomastics and regiments. The result is presented below:

20140801_Scottish_WWI_Onomastic_Millefeuille_v002

We’ve found a majority of Scottish names in regiments such as: the Gordon Highlanders, the Mercantile Marine Reserve, the Royal Scots, the Cameron Highlanders, the Seaforth Highlanders, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and also the Royal Flying Corps.

The onomastic mille-feuille is dense but hard to understand. You can think of it as a sorted list of pie charts, like this one:

20140801_Scottish_WWI_Onomastic_PieChart_MercantileMarineReserve_v001

This pie chart tells us that the Mercantile Marine Reserve was composed mostly of Scottish and Welsh soldiers.

By looking at the soldiers ranks for that particular regiment, we can produce a new onomastic mille-feuille: names DO matter when it comes to rank in 1914.

20140801_Scottish_WWI_Onomastic_MilleFeuille_MercantileMarineReserve_v001

In more easily understandable pie chart language, this means that the Firemen were mostly Scottish and Welsh, whereas the Carpenters were English.

20140801_Scottish_WWI_Onomastic_Ranks_PieChart_MercantileMarineReserve_v001

Indian names

The First World War started as a European war but populations from Africa and Asia were immediately mobilized by the colonial powers of the time: the British Colonial Empire,  France, … many soldiers came from far away to meet their death in the tranchées of Eastern France.

The Indian names in CWGC are indicated without any given name, but with the son’s and father’s name, for example:

sonName fatherName place regiment
PURANBAHADUR GHARTI KAMANSING GHARTI NEPAL 9th Gurkha Rifles
PUNE THAPA NAIN SING THAPA GULMI NEPAL 4th Gurkha Rifles
RADHA KISHN GANGA RAM RAJPUTANA Bharatpur Infantry
SITARAM SAWANT NILU SAWANT BOMBAY 117th Mahrattas
NAMDAR KHAN HAYAT KHAN N W F  PROVINCE 21st Punjabis
SHAHAB UDDIN KARAM ILAHI PUNJAB 53rd Sikhs (Frontier Force)
RAM RAKHA CHHOTE PUNJAB Sirmur Imperial Service Sapper Corps
AMAR SINGH GURDITT SINGH PUNJAB 15th Ludhiana Sikhs
LALITBIKRAM THAPA RAMBIKRAM THAPA NEPAL 5th Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force)
PANCHAM DHUNDA UNITED PROVINCES Army Bearer Corps
CHINNASWAMI DURUGAYA MYSORE 2nd Queen Victoria’s Own Sappers and Miners
LAKKHI JAHANGIR UNITED PROVINCES Indian Royal Artillery
SHIU DAS DUBE RAM SEWAK DUBE UNITED PROVINCES 3rd Brahmans
BATAN SINGH BELA SINGH PUNJAB 57th Wilde’s Rifles (Frontier Force)
KALU GHALE KAMI GHALE NEPAL 8th Gurkha Rifles
ISMAIL HAIDAR MANUBUDDIN SIKDAR BENGAL Indian Railway Department
FATTEH KHAN DIL DOST KHAN PUNJAB 82nd Punjabis
SUJAWAL KHAN BAHADUR KHAN PUNJAB 38th King George’s Own Central India Horse
MAHABIR MURAI LACHHMAN MURRAI UNITED PROVINCES 3rd Sappers and Miners
SURENDRANATH RIAWA CHANDI CHARAN BISWAS BENGAL Indian Labour Corps

So we have used a different algorithm to automatically cluster Indian names into onomastic classes. Some onomastic classes might be related to geography, some to Indian castes, social or religious beliefs …

We can again use an onomastic mille-feuille to visualize the correlation between names and geography, but here a classic geographical map would probably tell a better story.

20140801_Indian_WWI_Onomastic_Millefeuille_v001

Distinctive patterns are recognized in names from Bombay, Madras, Delhi or Pashawar, allowing the software to cluster them into distinct onomastic classes.

And again we can then look at regiments to how ethnically/linguistically diverse they were:

20140801_Indian_Regiments_WWI_Onomastic_Millefeuille_v001

French names

The equivalent of CWGC in France is the Mémoire des Hommes database. We’ve used it to calibrate NamSor recognition of French regional names. After calibration, about 70% of names can be allocated to a particular region and we can produce the following onomastic mille-feuille, sorted according to the relative number of Bretons (people from Brittany):

20140801_France_WWI_Millefeuille_v001

We can also view the total number of casualties, broken down according to the onomastic class. It shows the large number of people originally from Brittany who died during WWI, regardless of their birthplace. However, this remains debatable as ~30% of names could not be specifically allocated to a region of origin (only recognized as French).

20140801_France_WWI_RegionalBreakdown_v001

Baptiste COULMONT, a sociologist, published a very interesting study on given names analysing the results of students at the French Baccalaureate in 2014. We’ve used a similar dataset to compare regional names in 1914 and in 2014. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to align the geographic mappings – but the result is visual and self-explanatory. We can see how rural exodus and internal migration have eroded the regional identity in personal names. Still we can see that even in 2014, the correlation between onomastics and geography remains strong – especially in Brittany, in the North of France, in Alsace, in Lorraine, in Loire, in Lyon, in Aquitaine and Corsica.

20140801_France_Millefeuille_1914_2014_v001

What do names tell us about the world in 2014?

A lot! Some say: too much!

Enough to make ICOS2014 a very exciting and current event. We look forward to be in Glasgow on 25th August and meet you there. Long live onomastics.co.uk

Feel free to contact us: contact@namsor.com

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NamSor™ Applied Onomastics is a European designer of name recognition software. Our mission is to help make sense of the Big Data and understand international flows of money, ideas and people.
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