Monday, January 19, 2009

Thank you, JR

My collegial interlocutor, JR, has a few words in a recent post kindly directing his readers to this blog for more of our discussion of the relative merits of Jewish and English national survival strategies. I will have more to post on the subject soon. Currently I am almost finished reading Martin Goodman's interesting history of the Judean wars and subsequent anti-Jewish persecutions, Rome and Jerusalem, which I think bears on our discussion here. When I sort out my thoughts, I will post them here.

Today JR has a few interesting comments reflecting his interest in onomastics. I would agree that the simple English names preferred by the House of Windsor (formerly the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, formerly the House of Hannover) are best for those in Anglophone countries.

He begins with this statement:
Personal names are rather an interest of mine. I find them revealing. They tell me a lot about people's background. When I hear surnames like Kerkorian or Krikorian or Khachaturian I know, for instance, that the person is of Armenian origin. And a Hryniuk or a Gavrishchuk is of Ukrainian origin etc. The "ian" or the "uk" endings tell the story.
Although that may be generally true, I hope he doesn't take it as an invariable rule. The "ian" ending is also found in many Iranian names, which are not Armenian, including Iranian Jewish names. And even among some Persian Baha'i families who originated as converts from Judaism to Baha'ism (how's that for a jump from the frying pan into the fire!)

A Wikipedia entry on Persian family name states:
Many last names that end in "ian" (or sometimes "yan") are traditionally Persian last names (though this is also common in Armenian last names, which are not related).
In Australia, I would bet that most names that end "ian" are Armenian rather than Persian, so JR's rule of thumb probably works well.

I don't know why he should object to changing a surname, however. As I have hinted, the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was not immune to the desire to have a more "English" dynastic name, and the Battenburgs were obliged to become Mountbattens at about the same time. Many immigrants change their surnames to make them easier for their new neighbors. And sometimes families have a reason to renew themselves with a new designation. When Kara George became a the Serbian national hero, it was natural for his heirs to call themselves "Karageorgevic" instead of his old name, "Petrovic."

All the more for cultures which did not, and many which still do not, use family names at all. JR's near neighbors in Java, for example, have a complex and fluid system of names, but most of them use only one name, a given name, without any family name at all.

Whatever works, I guess.

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