Browsing Research Institute in Information and Language Processing by Publisher "Consello da Cultura Galega"
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New directions in the study of family namesThis paper explores and explains recent radical developments in resources and methodology for studying the origins, cultural associations, and histories of family names (also called ‘surnames’). It summarizes the current state of the art and outlines new resources and procedures that are now becoming available. It shows how such innovations can enable the correction of errors in previous work and improve the accuracy of dictionaries of family names, with a focus on the English-speaking world. Developments such as the digitization of archives are having a profound effect, not only on the interpretation and understanding of traditional, ‘established’ family names and their histories, but also of names in other languages and other cultures. There are literally millions of different family names in the world today, many of which have never been studied at all. What are good criteria for selection of entries in a dictionary of family names, and what can be said about them? What is the nature of the evidence? How stable (or how variable) are family names over time? What are the effects of factors such as migration? What is the relationship between family names and geographical locations, given that people can and do move around? What is the relationship between traditional philological and historical approaches to the subject and statistical analysis of newly available digitized data? The paper aims to contribute to productive discussion of such questions.