I blogged about this several years ago, but now there’s a startling new development. The original story goes something like this:
I was in England for a few years and one day driving to work out in East Anglia, there was a story on BBC Radio 2 news about a bank robbery that had occurred the day before. Apparently, the robbers had left behind a check (or “cheque” to be perfectly British about it) book that might have a clue to their identities. Based on that bit of evidence, the police were seeking a man and “a woman with an American name,” said the BBC “presenter.”
I pondered just what would be “an American name”? Julia Smith? Maria Gonzales? Ming Han Lo? Phan Nyugen? Alia Kumar? Soshi Hygashi? Cha Choy? Sabine von Wirtz? Celine Renault? Margritte Nilsson? Subayo Nkrume? Alexandra Petrovich? I think you get my point. It would seem that there are no American names, yet every name is, or could be, an American name.
Now, however, one may be able to find uniquely American names. Tim Agazio, a great American with a great “American” name, came across the World Names Profiler and mentioned it the other day at his Genealogy Reviews Online. Tim apparently had some difficulty with the newly-launched website, but today I was able to go in and conduct searches.
World Names Profiler is a project of Public Profiler, a research activity based at University College London. UCL claims to have “one of the world’s leading clusters of spatial scientists,” with the primary goal “to link world class spatial science research to cutting edge public sector applications.” This year, they’ve launched PublicProfiles ( to “deliver a comprehensive picture of UK neighbourhoods using multiple public domain or free data”), OnoMap (“a new way of classifying people and the places they live, based on our common cultural, ethnic and linguistic roots”), and World Names Profiler.
World Names Profiler “utilises a range of new and up to date data sources to examine where in the world people with your surname are found.” The database is made up of information collected from telephone directories and election registers for 26 countries, sourced during the period 2000-2005. When a name is place in the “Name Search” box, the output is a map and a set of statistics that describe the “frequency per million people” in particular countries with that name. It goes down to the top cities and regions in the world for a particular surname as well. It also sets out the top forenames associated with a particular surname.
Click on Pictures to Enlarge
World Names Profiler
I ran some of my ancestral surnames in World Names Profiler. Some of the results were surprises, some were not. For example, “Manson” is distributed mainly in the English-speaking world, with New Zealand leading the pack with 315.44 Mansons per million Kiwis (in a population of 4.3 million, however, that’s only about 1,350 people). The USA is fifth in number of Mansons per million with 28.43 (again, however, with a population of 300 million, that’s about 9,000 people–the U.S. Census Bureau in 1990 counted slightly more than 10,000 Mansons).
“Manson” Search Result in World Names Profiler
My ancestral name Brayboy occurs exclusively in the United States, so there is apparently such a thing as an American name; which is not surprising, since the Brayboys most likely are descendants of Native Americans, whose names are the original American names.
The World Names Profiler has two other tabs labeled “Area Search” and Ethnicity Search.” Both are described as “under construction.”
Now to really find things interesting, we go to the associated application called OnoMap. It is described as “is a research methodology, based on an academic project, which allows users to classify any list of names into groups of common cultural ethnic and linguistic origin using surnames and forenames.” (Emphasis in original).
Here a forename and a surname are placed into the search box. After a word-controlled security check, the application returns a description of the person’s ethnicity based on the name. It asks if the user agrees with the assigned ethnicity. If the user disagrees, there is a feedback page where the user may select from a number of other choices–which is the point of the research tool. There is also a space for comments.
Top: OnoMap guesses my ethnicity.
Bottom: I reply.
I tried the name “Herman Brayboy”; “Herman” being, according the World Names Profiler, the top forename to go with “Brayboy.” OnoMap says the ethnicity of this name and person is “Unclassified.” So may be there aren’t any “American” names after all.
In any event, I would say that “American” has become a cultural ethnicity–yet it’s missing from the database. African Americans are very different ethnicly from any ethnic group now extant in Africa, for instance. And how about every other native born American? Aren’t all of us over here ethnicly distinct from our forebears? Or not? Perhaps that’s another question worthy of research.
September 5, 2008 Friday at 4:07 pm