Monday, December 31, 2007

Examining surnames

This is probably the time of the year for a few lighter posts so let me mention an occasional recreation that I have: Observing what surnames tell us. For instance: Surnames ending in "uk" or "iuk" are usually Ukrainian, surnames ending in "u" are Sardinan or Romanian, surnames ending in "yan" or "ian" are Armenian, and a final "ee" sound is very common in Irish names (Murphy, Toohey, Fahey, Talty, Sheehy, Mahoney, Mulrooney etc). There is also a more minor tradition for Irish names to end in an "un" sound: Coughlin, Reagan, Rearden etc.

But Ashkenazi names are the most amusing of all. They were meant to be. In a combination that will blow current Leftist minds, militaristic Prussia (in Northeastern Germany) was for many years the most tolerant place in Europe and many Jews fled to Prussia from persecution elsewhere. So much of the surviving Jewish population today owes its existence to the refuge their ancestors found in Protestant Prussia: Germany giveth and Germany taketh away. The Prussian border guards could not be bothered with foreign names, however, so gave the incoming Jews ID papers with German names on them. And the German names were deliberately mocking. So a Jew who was renamed as "Kren" for instance, had to go around thenceforth introducing himself as "Mr Horseradish" -- which is what "Herr Kren" means in German.

A basic knowledge of German therefore makes Ashkenazi names amusing to this day. Goldberg is "Goldmountain", Rosenblum" is "Roseflower", Finkelstein is "SparklingStone" etc. Occasionally however the guards must have run out of imagination and gave names that were not too bad. "Wiesengrund" is an example. It means "Meadowland", which sounds rather pleasant to me. In one of those ironies with which life abounds, however, the most prominent bearer of that name for his entire professional life used the pen-name of "Adorno", which is Spanish for "ornament"! Words fail me!

And I find my own surname rather fun too. There may be more than one path that has led to the surname "Ray" but it seems to me that the important fact about it is that it is found throughout the British Isles in various spellings (Rae in Scotland, Reay in Ireland, Wray in England etc.). So I think that it is clear that it is an old Celtic name probably derived from the Gaelic "rath" -- meaning "red" (cf. "roth", also meaning "red", in German). The Rays were originally the redheads. And guess what? My father was a redhead! So it all fits in a rather surprising way.

And then there are patronymics -- still important from Iceland to Russia. In Ireland we have of course originally patronymic names like O'Brien and McSweeney and in Scotland Macdonald. And if ever you get an urge to write a letter to the present President of Russia, DON'T address him as "Dear Mr. Putin". That is crass. You address him as "Vladimir Vladimirovich" (Vladimir son of Vladimir"). Similarly you would address Mikhail Gorbachev as "Mikhail Sergeyevich" (Mikhail son of Sergei). Patronymics are polite in Russia. But it is in Iceland that patronymics reign supreme. The full name of a recent President of Iceland is, for instance, "Vigdis Finnbogadottir" (Vigdis, daughter of Finnboga). That's her below.

In Denmark too patronymics used to be dominant but they made a law around 100 years ago that said everybody had to adopt a surname. But the Danes just converted their patronymics into surnames -- which is why we have so many Andersens (son of Anders), Petersens, Olsens (son of Ole), Neilsens etc. Now isn't that all rather fun?


I feel slightly foolish for having omitted the name "Kelly" from my list of Irish names ending in an "ee" sound. My very own beloved grandmother was a Kelly!

And to the list of Irish names ending in an "un" sound one should of course add Ryan, Mahon and Geoghegan. You may need to be Irish to pronounce Geoghegan correctly. It's easier than it looks!



Don Surber's Colorado story of the week: "8 inches of global warming fell on Denver on Christmas Day, shattering a record that dated back to 1894. Thousands of children ran outside to make globalwarmingmen."

The Church that worships the environment instead of God is fading fast: "Last night, leading figures gave warning that the Church of England could become a minority faith and that the findings should act as a wake-up call. The statistics show that attendance at Anglican Sunday services has dropped by 20 per cent since 2000. A survey of 37,000 churches, to be published in the new year, shows the number of people going to Sunday Mass in England last year averaged 861,000, compared with 852,000 Anglicans -worshipping. [Out of a popoulation of 60 million]

Long gone neocons: "Maybe 2008 will be the year when we will finally be rid of that vacuous belief that 'the neocons' are in control of the Bush administration's foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. Habits are hard to break, particularly lazy ones, but if anyone bothered to look more closely, they would see that the United States has not really engaged in what we might call a neoconservative approach to the region since at least 2004, when the situation in Iraq took a sudden turn for the worse."

Old Etonian wants the commoners to pay more for their chicken: "The television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, known for his earthy approach to cooking and love of offal, is to launch a campaign for the middle classes to boycott cheap chicken in protest at the cruelty of battery farming. Fearnley-Whittingstall believes well-heeled consumers should be prepared to pay more for their chicken so that fewer birds are reared in overcrowded, unnatural conditions. Currently, less than 5% of chicken bought in Britain is organic or free-range, and critics believe shoppers place too much emphasis on simply finding the lowest prices. Organic chicken in the supermarket is about twice the price of intensively reared birds"

Romney is awake to the State Department!: "Romney agrees with Bolton on the State Department? He is looking better and better. Here is Romney on Hugh Hewitt's show while on the Iowa caucus campaign trail: HH: Governor Romney, one of the first tasks for a conservative in the White House will be to get control of the Department of State, and the Central Intelligence Agency, that keep turning out these NIE's and leaking things. Do you have the capacity to do that? MR: You know, there's nothing more political than corporate America. And you have to be able to rein in those individuals that are, if you will, doing things that harm our national interests. And I've watched with some concern over the past weeks, and years, frankly, it's going to be very difficult to turn around our State Department, and get it to respond to the position that the President would take. John Bolton's recent book, Surrender Is Not An Option, is a good inside look at how disruptive and counterproductive our efforts in the U.N., or our efforts at the State Department can be. But that is something which I'm up to, and I'm looking forward to.

Hillary frags Pakistan: "While the world holds its breath to see if Pakistan will explode, Senator Hillary Clinton tossed a fragmentation grenade into the fireworks factory yesterday. It may be the most irresponsible and selfish act by a presidential candidate in history: "I don't think the Pakistani government at this time under President Musharraf has any credibility at all. They have disbanded an independent judiciary. They have oppressed a free press," she said. Naturally, she also said, "I don't think politics should be playing a role in how our country responds ... to the tragedy." Well, she just did exactly that by denouncing President Musharraf, who has been targeted by four assassination attempts himself, and is desperately trying to keep Pakistan from falling apart. He's the one who controls those nukes that we don't want Al Qaida to get. You don't have to like him to realize that weakening his position right now is wildly irresponsible. It plays right into the hands of those who want civil war".


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"Why should the German be interested in the liberation of the Jew, if the Jew is not interested in the liberation of the German?... We recognize in Judaism, therefore, a general anti-social element of the present time... In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.... Indeed, in North America, the practical domination of Judaism over the Christian world has achieved as its unambiguous and normal expression that the preaching of the Gospel itself and the Christian ministry have become articles of trade... Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist". Who said that? Hitler? No. It was Karl Marx. See also here and here and here.

The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialistisch) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party".



Anonymous said...

A basic knowledge of German therefore makes Ashkenazi names amusing to this day. Goldberg is "Goldmountain", Rosenblum" is "Roseflower", Finkelstein is "SparklingStone" etc. Occasionally however the guards must have run out of imagination and gave names that were not too bad. "Wiesengrund" is an example. It means "Meadowland", which sounds rather pleasant to me. In one of those ironies with which life abounds, however, the most prominent bearer of that name for his entire professional life used the pen-name of "Adorno", which is Spanish for "ornament"! Words fail me!

I'm of mostly German Catholic extraction, but my own unusual surname, "Weisensee," (an Anglicized spelling of Wei├čensee) is one of those names with a very straightforward translation: "white lake." All of those Weisensee ancestors of whom I am able to trace seem to originate in the vicinity of Berlin. I presume, then, that the name comes from the old district of Berlin of the same name.

Joseph said...

The German word for ornament is "Schmuck." I won't argue with Adorno's self assessment.