Friday, March 16, 2007



When Wales are playing in the Six Nations rugby tournament it can be difficult keeping up with all the Joneses, Williamses etc. There are actually six players called Jones in the current Welsh squad. What a contrast with France. Its players' identifiers are never less than unique. In fact it is rare to come across the same French surname twice in any circumstances.

And this is not just because France is big and Wales is small. Take Spain: you won't be long there before you come across a Garcia, a Lopez, a Fernandez etc. In fact Garcia is actually among the top twenty surnames in France.

I'm not sure how much surname frequency tells us about history and society but it is striking that in Italy two of the top 10 surnames are Esposito and Colombo, both of which apparently mean 'abandoned child'.

Even more intriguing is the situation in Hungary. No fewer than 6 of the 22 most common Hungarian surnames denote foreign nationalities:

3. Tóth (Slovak)
5. Horváth (Croat)
9. Németh (German)
18. Oláh (Romanian)
20. Rácz (Serb)
22. Török (Turk)

This might be taken to bespeak a highly cosmopolitan population. Yet according to survey data Hungary has the lowest level of foreign language proficiency in the whole of the EU.

Even worse than Britain. There, according to the BBC
Experts blame a misplaced belief that "everyone else" speaks English, while in the past - as an island-nation - we have not been exposed to other languages like countries with land borders
If those were the relevant factors Hungary is surely the last place you'd expect to find so many monoglots.

I'm quite surprised Lengyel (Polish) didn't make it to the list... The bilingual region of Slovakia where I'm from has a lot of Lengyels.
Yes and there's Sido (Jewish) and Olasz (Italian) too it seems.

Wonder if Sarkozy denotes a particular nationality ...
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