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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Where's your name?

Lifestyle | Website shows the frequency of family names in various countries, states, and counties

Issue: "After the revolution," Feb. 26, 2011

A new website will allow you to find out how common or uncommon your last name is, and where those who have it live. World Names (worldnames.publicprofiler.org) holds in its database 8 million unique surnames and 5 million unique first names, from 26 countries in Europe, America, Asia, and Oceania. The maps indicate relative frequency of a name in different countries.

For example, when I type in Olasky, a world map pops up showing the United States colored turquoise, indicating a "moderate" number of Olaskys-actually, only 1/7 of an Olasky for every million Americans. No other country has Olaskys, and if I click on Michigan I can learn of some slight Olasky incidence in two counties, Wayne and Oakland.

Belzes, on the other hand, are more numerous in the United States-nine per million Americans-and are present in such abundance in Germany that the country is colored dark blue. If we press on the United States we see Belz clusters in the Midwest and several other states, but Alaska has the greatest number in proportion to the population. And if we press on North Carolina we find a Belz center in Buncombe County.

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Smiths, on the third hand, make the map dark blue in England and Australia, lighter blue in the United States and Canada, and pale yellow through much of continental Europe and India. The U.S. distribution shows 9,000 Smiths per million Americans spread throughout the country, with the greatest concentrations in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Arkansas. The maps also bring out curious facts: For example, cold-weather Canada, Norway, and Sweden have more Ethiopians as a percentage of the population than the United States has.

Name mapping can be fun but also helpful to policy analysis and evangelism when it shows ethnic patterns. For example, London geographer James Cheshire produced a map (names.mappinglondon.co.uk) that lists the 15 most frequent surnames in each neighborhood of London: Among them are Smiths and Taylors but also Sidhus, Patels, Cohens, Kahns, and Singhs. Each name is color-coded to indicate where it originated. The map allows users to see at a glance that Smith is the most widely distributed name but that London is sprinkled with distinct ethnic enclaves where other names predominate.

The old and the restless

"Young and growing, to old and stagnant": That's how a presentation by the Center for Strategic and International Studies describes the demographic transformation facing the world over the next 30 years. CSIS came up with a Global Aging Preparedness Index (GAP) that ranks 20 countries on two measures: the fiscal sustainability of their public programs for the elderly and the income adequacy of those programs (gapindex.csis.org/home.html).

The United States is No. 3 in income adequacy but only No. 11 in fiscal sustainability: Italy, France, Brazil, The Netherlands, and Spain make up the bottom five in sustainability. The Netherlands and Brazil are first and second in income adequacy. Some of this analysis is dry but important stuff for policy makers or business planners trying to get a grip on the challenges facing us over the next 30 years. There's no inevitability here and cash is not always the difference-maker; for example, if more adult children take in elderly parents, sustainability increases.

Many businesses are making product decisions based on an aging population. According to the magazine Fast Company, General Electric simulates the functionality of its ovens for elderly people by having designers "tape their knuckles to represent arthritic hands, put kernels of popcorn in their shoes to create imbalances, and weigh down pans to simulate putting food into ovens." But don't expect companies to publicize what they're doing. GE designer Marc Hottenroth says, "Boomers won't buy something made specifically for the aging population because that's not how they see themselves."

This old street

Have you ever wondered what a particular street looked like in days gone by? Sepiatown.com is a website designed to collect and map historical and vintage photographs, prints, film, audio and other media uploaded by registered users. It's in an early stage, so currently New York seems to have the most photographs, but the site invites users to upload for free old photos of streets and buildings in their own cities, which are mapped using Google Earth.

Somber site

Google and Jersualem-based archive Yad Vashem are partnering to make available online the largest historical collection of Holocaust materials, including 130,000 photographs that are now available (collections.yadvashem.org/photosarchive/en-us/photos.html). People will be able to search the collection, identify photos, and add stories and thoughts about the material. The photos are arranged in groups of 12 tiny thumbnails. A descriptive sentence appears when you move your cursor over the group: For example, "15 family photos. Most of them are of the Pretzelmayer family in Velke Kostolany, Czechoslovakia before the war." Click on the group and larger thumbnails appear. You can click on any picture to see it larger. Descriptive information, identifying people, places, and contributors, appears on the right.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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