Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Why the DMNES? Part 3: For genealogists, re-enactors, and parents


In Part 2 of this series, we offered some reflections on reasons why what we could call the “professionals” might be interested in the Dictionary. In this installment, we talk why the Dictionary should appeal to lay-people, to non-academics, to people who don’t devote their lives to research, to everyone who has at some point in their lives either named someone or been named themselves. (I.e., everyone!)
Genealogists: Amateur genealogists would benefit from the Dictionary for many of the same reasons that historians would. Genealogists are generally not trained in onomastics and thus do not always recognize when one name is a variant of another, and thus could refer to the same person, or are familiar with the various ways that names have switched genders over the years. A person who is familiar only with modern names could perhaps be mislead into thinking that John was only used as a masculine name.
In addition, genealogists—and indeed the general population—are often interested in the linguistic origins of their names. There is much data out there which is unreliable if not downright incorrect (witness the number of baby-name books that describe names as being ‘Teutonic’ or ‘Celtic’, or which have incorrect etymologies). The Dictionary will bring together scholarly research on the etymology of names making it a one-stop shop for those who are interested in reliable origin information.
Re-enactors: Historical re-enactors are often charged with the task of developing a name which is authentic for a particular time and location; and those who are not trained in onomastics can find this a daunting task, not even knowing what makes a good source or where to find such sources. The Dictionary, bringing together examples of common and uncommon names from many different contexts into a single source, will be an invaluable resource.
Parents: Of course, many parents could come to the Dictionary merely to satiate curiosity about the historical origins of the names they’re considering for their children. However, there is a role the Dictionary can play beyond this satisfaction. In many European countries, there are strict rules about what you can name your child, both with regard to the name pool itself and to allowable variant spellings. Members of the editorial staff have in the past been consulted by parents looking for evidence to prove the acceptability of their choices, and the Dictionary has the potential to become an incredibly useful tool for demonstrating that variant spellings which would otherwise be considered problematic are legitimate alternatives, and thus used in support of governmental petitions regarding children’s names.