Basic Research: Knowing What to Avoid
(On the Web and in Books)

compiled by Modar Neznanich


The main purpose of this article is to provide information to assist members of the
Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. in doing research for SCA name documentation.
However, much of the information can additionally be applied to other research purposes
such as persona development, arts & sciences projects or similar pursuits.

[This article is "in process".]


Special thanks go to
Tangwystl verch Morgant Glasvryn (mka Heather Rose Jones)
and to the
Academy of St. Gabriel
whose work, articles, e-mails and other info has made
the compilation of this article possible.


Many people in the process of doing research find a large amount of information, either on the Internet or in books. However, it can be a lot of trouble trying to determine if the information located is actually correct or usable. Following are some things to consider. These concepts may sound simple, but it is amazing how easy it is to overlook this aspect.

When looking at a website or book, determine the following:

1.   What does the introductory material say about the contents?
    This will give you an idea about the focus of the book or website that the author is attempting.
     
2a.   What is the stated purpose of the website or book?
    Is it for historical research? If not, then the information may come from a "conglomerate" of sources and not be accurate. Check for sources and references.
     
2b.   In the case of name research, what are the names listed for?
    Is it intended as a source for baby names, for names for fictional or role-playing characters or a study of historical names? If the purpose is for a listing of baby names or for fictional characters, most likely there will be elements in the listings that are historically incorrect.
     
3.   In the case of name research, does it make any claims for the historicity of the names?
    If not, then the sources utilized may be a "re-hash" of other works. And it is difficult to verify the accuracy of these previous works.
     
4.   Does it provide the original source for the information?
    If not, then it is possibly suspect as to being a reliable source. However, if it provides references, you can then verify the accuracy of the information by researching the references.
     
5.   Does it give you references that would enable you to look up the original material?
    If not, then it is very suspect as to being a reliable source.
     
6.   In the case of name research, does it provide dates for particular examples of names, or for the source?
    If there are no dates for the name or the source the name came from, then it is unsuitable for documenting names for SCA registration. A dated reference from a reliable source is the 100% sure way to guarantee SCA registration.
     
7.   Does it use general terms like "ancient", "traditional", "Celtic" or "Teutonic"?
    These are what are referred to as "danger words". When such general terms are used, it usually means the author is cribbing off a 1800s (19th- century) source and these are outdated and largely inaccurate.There are no such languages as Celtic or Teutonic.
     
8.   In the case of name research, is more than one spelling of each name provided, or does it appear to use "standard" forms?
    Names developed over time, and with it there were spelling changes. Unless the source is providing names from one particular source area (i.e. a tax roll, a parish record, etc.) there most likely should be multiple spellings of a single name.
     

When considering a name list, the signs whether it is reliable or unreliable as a source of medieval names are:

Unreliable:

1. No dates.
2. No list of sources where the author found the names.
3. The title of the list includes the word baby.
4. There is a meaning given for every name.
5. Languages of origin are given with unscholarly terms like Teutonic or Celtic.
6. There is no variation in the spelling of names, i.e. every William is spelled the same.

Reliable:

1. Gives a clear identification of the source of each name.
2. Gives a clear identification of the date, language, and other contextual information about the source.
3. Gives an indication of any editorial work has been done (e.g., expanding abbreviations, standardizing spelling, transcription conventions, if the original was not in the Roman alphabet).


Concerning websites for the documentation of name elements for SCA registration:

The Academy of Saint Gabriel has composed an article entitled: WWW Names Pages for Medievalists to Avoid. It contains a list of websites that should not be used for SCA documentation, and states the reason why.

This does not necessarily mean that these websites are"bad" for the purposes for which they were created; only that they are not good sources for the purpose of documenting names for registration in the SCA.


Concerning books for the documentation of name elements for SCA registration:

In addition to websites that are not appropriate to use for SCA documentation, there are several books that fall into the same category. The Administrative Handbook of the College of Arms of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. has an appendix entitled: APPENDIX F - Names Sources to Be Avoided in Documentation. It gives a non-comprehensive list of books that "should be regarded with deep suspicion, and avoided wherever possible" for the purposes of documenting names in the SCA. It goes on to say, "This is not to say that these books are"bad" books for the purposes for which they were written; only that they are not good sources for the purpose of documenting names for registration in the SCA."

Amongst the books listed to avoid are:

Arthur, Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names
Coghlan, Ronan, Irish First Names
Coghlan, Ronan, Ida Grehan and P.W. Joyce, Book of Irish Names
Dellquest, Augustus Wilfrid, These Names of Ours: A Book of Surnames (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell)
Dunkling, Leslie and William Gosling,
The New American Dictionary of First Names
Hanks and Hodges, Dictionary of First Names
Hanks and Hodges, Dictionary of Surnames
Kolatch, Alfred J., Any book by this author including The Jonathan David Dictionary of First Names
Loughead, Flora Gaines, Dictionary of Given Names
Partridge, Eric, Name This Child: A Dictionary of Modern British and American Given or Christian Names
Smith, Elsdon, New Dictionary of American Family Names
Wells, Evelyn, A Treasury of Names (also published under the title What to Name the Baby)
Yonge, Charlotte,
History of Christian Names



References

Academy of St. Gabriel website
http://www.s-gabriel.org/index.html

Writings of Tangwystl verch Morgant Glasvryn
(mka Heather Rose Jones)

The Administrative Handbook of the College of Arms of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.
http://www.sca.org/heraldry/laurel/admin.html



1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 Ron "Modar" Knight
Baron Modar Neznanich, OPel, Volk Herald
e-mail:
modar@everestkc.net
 

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