we’ve all seen headlines like this…

The 13-year-old Belgian boy fighting in Syria

…only to click through and find that this “belgian’s” name is younes abaaoud and his parents are (or at least his father is) originally from morocco. i know that most of the members of the press are hopelessly politically correct and that they must want to obscure the origins of people like abaaoud — or they really believe it when they say this kid is belgian, which is an even scarier thought — i know this, and i’ve known it for quite a while now, but it still irritates me when i read such headlines. it irritates me because it’s such misinformation. it’s unhelpful. when i read the word “beligan,” i picture a short, round little man with a curious moustache. or at least an obviously north european person making waffles.

we have words for things — give names to things — for a reason: to help in identifying those things and to communicate something about them. and — and perhaps i am and have always been misguided about this — i thought the idea of naming things was to aid in the communication process, not make it all more confused. but i’m beginning to think i might’ve been wrong about this.

at the very least, i think someone like abaaoud — a second-generation immigrant to belgium with (i don’t think) any belgian or european ancestry whatsoever — ought to be called a moroccan-belgian. to aid in the communication process.

since it’s st. patrick’s day (woo-hoo!), i’m going to use ireland as an example. (disclaimer: all of my recent ancestors came from ireland. i’m pretty sure that a very large part of my ancestry is “native irish,” but there’s also some amount of scots and maybe even some norman. i doubt there’s much anglo-irishness in me.)

once upon a time, we had names for the different populations in ireland, and they were actively used: the gaelic or native irish (the people(s) who were in ireland before the viking and norman invasions), the hiberno-normans, the old english, the ulster scots, the anglo-irish. there were even names for rival viking groups at one time (names that were eventually reused for some of the normans). more and more nowadays, however, i see everyone from ireland being called simply “irish.” needless to say, i think we should keep right on using the variety of more specific terms we have.

i can hear some of you objecting already: “but hbd chick! it doesn’t matter anymore! those norman and anglo settlers arrived in ireland so long ago!” oh, really? [links added by me – fine gael and fianna fáil are two of the largest political parties in the republic of ireland]:

“FF and FG tribal split traced back to 12th century”

“THERE ARE real tribal differences between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that date back hundreds of years before the foundation of the State, according to two political scientists.

“An analysis of the names of all of the TDs [members of parliament] who have served in the Dáil shows that Fine Gael TDs are more likely to come from Norman/Old English families while Fianna Fáilers tend to come from Gaelic backgrounds.

“The analysis was carried out by Dr Eoin O’Malley of DCU (a son of former Progressive Democrat leader Des O’Malley) and Dr Kevin Byrne of Trinity College Dublin.

“They based their research on the fact that Irish surnames are among the oldest in the world, dating back many centuries.

“The origin of almost all of those names, whether Gaelic, Norman or English, is known.

“After identifying the surname origin of every one of the 1,100 TDs ever elected, the researchers found significant differences in the distribution of surnames between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

“While 64 per cent of Fianna Fáil TDs have surnames of exclusively Gaelic origin, only 51 per cent of Fine Gael TDs do.

“The opposite pattern is seen for Old English (Norman) and New English surnames, with 22 per cent of Fine Gael TDs bearing names of that origin, but only 12 per cent of Fianna Fáil deputies.

“‘While a surname of a given origin isn’t enough to predict a politician’s party, there is a bias in affiliation toward Fianna Fáil TDs having Gaelic surnames and Fine Gael TDs having Old and New English surnames,’ say the researchers.

“They add that the probability of these differences arising by chance is very remote, so they conclude that the tribal polarisation between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is statistically significant.

“‘In addition, Fianna Fáil has significantly more TDs with Gaelic surnames than would be expected given the Irish population, while Fine Gael has more deputies with Old and New English surnames than a random sampling of Irish citizens would warrant,’ they add….”

so there. (except see here.)

furthermore, whenever you hear about some famous “irish” person, like a scientist or an author, they’re more than likely to have anglo-irish or scots-irish ancestry.

for instance, if you look at this list on wikipedia of famous “irish” scientists (*chuckle*), the vast majority are or were either of scots-irish, old english, or anglo-irish background, not native irish. one or two were even partly or fully of some other ethnic background(s) (i.e. french huguenot and sephardic jewish). i can pick out only seven who are likely candidates for having a (mostly) native irish background: louis brennan, pádraig de brún, nicholas callan, aeneas coffey, richard kirwan (“one of the last supporters of the theory of phlogiston”), william dargan, and john philip holland — and i’m not so sure about dargan or holland (both of those surnames could be either british or irish). so that’s five to seven native irish out of a list of forty “irish”, and i bet most of you have never heard of any of them.

and if we look at “irish” nobel laureates (heh — yes, there have been a couple!), of the science ones, we’ve got ernest walton (physics, 1951) aaaaaand…no, sorry, that’s it. ernest walton. needless to say, walton is an old anglo-saxon name, and ernest’s father was a methodist minister, so probably not very native irish. (maybe there are some native irish laureates in amongst the u.s. or canadian or australian winners. i didn’t get around to checking that.)

and all those famous irish authors? w.b. yeats? anglo-irish. oscar wilde? anglo-irish. bernard shaw? anglo-irish. jonathan swift? anglo-irish. samuel beckett? anglo-irish. bram stoker? anglo-irish. j.m. synge? anglo-irish. clearly overrepresented. (not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

can’t even give the native irish much credit for our trademark alcoholic beverages, guinness or jameson. arthur guinness was anglo-irish, although he does appear to have had some native irish roots, so a bit of a mix he was:

“Why Guinness is less Irish than you think”

“MARCH 17th is St Patrick’s day, a celebration of all things Irish—and of one thing in particular. Around Ireland and all over the world people will celebrate with a pint or two (or three, or four) of Guinness, Ireland’s unofficial national intoxicant…. But how Irish is it really?

“Arthur Guinness, who founded the brewery in Dublin in 1759, might have been surprised that his drink would one day become such a potent national symbol. He was a committed unionist and opponent of Irish nationalism, who before the Irish Rebellion of 1798 was even accused of spying for the British authorities. His descendants continued passionately to support unionism — one giving the Ulster Volunteer Force £10,000 in 1913 (about £1m, or $1.7m, in today’s money) to fund a paramilitary campaign to resist Ireland being given legislative independence. The company was alleged to have lent men and equipment to the British army to help crush Irish rebels during the Easter Rising of 1916, afterwards firing members of staff whom it believed to have Irish-nationalist sympathies.

“The beer the company has become most famous for — porter stout — was based on a London ale, a favourite of the street porters of Covent Garden and Billingsgate markets. Since 1886 the firm has floated on the London Stock Exchange, and the company moved its headquarters to London in 1932, where it has been based ever since (it merged with Grand Metropolitan and renamed itself Diageo in 1997)….”

and john jameson was scottish.

my point here is that, given our numbers, the native irish haven’t achieved all that much. comparatively speaking, anyway. we were not the first population to go to space, and we won’t be the first to land on mars.

is any of this a problem? no. is it of any interest? h*ll, yeah! if you want to really know anything about “irish” people or scientists or authors or whatever, you might want to know their true background. same goes for terrorists and isis volunteers.

what’s in a name? INFORMATION!

some people might think that i want to single out immigrants or minority groups when i say that i want to be specific about what they’re called. nothing could be further from the truth. i believe in (can i still say this?!) calling a spade a spade. because THAT tells me something. calling a spade a shovel would misinform me.
_____

p.s. – there is also this theory as to why the native irish haven’t gone to mars first. (~_^)

previously: “core europe” and human accomplishment

(note: comments do not require an email. spade vs. shovel.)

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