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Wait in Shorter Lines: Names, Letters, and Ethnicity
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Lisa Spira, April 25, 2017

I always wait in shorter lines. What’s my secret? My surname starts with the letter S.

We tend to organize by surname. When in line at a conference registration table or polling location, for example, there will be two lines: A-M and N-Z. The English alphabet has 26 letters, so we arbitrarily split into groups between letters 13 and 14. Not every letter, however, is created equal.

If you consider the entire US population distributed by last initial, you’ll see a different “middle.” Almost all of the most popular letters (B, C, H, M) are in the first 13 letters. Only one (S) is in the latter half. To move people through lines more quickly, split the lines after the 11th letter: A-K and L-Z.

The more you understand who is waiting in line, however, the more efficiently you can distribute the lines.

In Hispanic neighborhoods, where the popular Rodriguez and Ramirez change the letter balance, split A-L and M-Z.

If primarily Indians are in attendance, move your split back to the alphabet’s 13th letter: A-M and N-Z. The post popular Indian names – Patel, Singh, and Shah – are in the latter half of the alphabet.
For a Chinese audience, it’s challenging to create even lines. With popular names like Lee, Long, Li, Liu, and Lin, the population is heavily concentrated right in the middle of the alphabet. Whether you put L with the first half or the second half, it’s an uneven split.

At the moment, I have a pretty good deal; I can walk right up to any counter, check in, and move along. Next time you put together an event, consider who will be in attendance, and consider their names. They’ll thank you, especially the Johnsons, Browns, and Garcias.

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Making “Sense” of the “Census”: Who is reporting as “Two or More Races”?
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Amalia Tsiongas, March 7, 2017

According to the U.S. Census, Americans fit neatly into the following categories: White, Black Asian / Pacific Islander, American Indian / Alaska Native, Hispanic, or Two or More Races.

The U.S. Census recently released an updated list of the most common surnames in the United States, accompanied by information about how Americans reported their ethnicities, within the framework above. It’s a veritable treasure trove of data for researchers – like those at Ethnic Technologies – who concern themselves with the role names play in ethnic identity.

However, deciphering the data is a lot less straightforward than it seems. What, if anything, can a name researcher understand from the category of “two or more races”?

Sometimes “two or more races” represents individuals from a mixed marriage, or whose family members originated from different parts of the world, speak different languages, and follow different cultural traditions – for example, someone who identifies as BOTH White AND Black.

Other times, however, “two or more races” actually represents specific ethnic groups, entire communities who feel they don’t fit neatly into any of the other options. Who are they?

• Mixed-Race Ethnicities – Distinct cultural identities created when separate populations mixed over the course of generations.
o Black African and Arab populations in the Eastern African country of Ethiopia
o European and Asian populations in Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan
• Minority Groups – Distinct cultural identities shaped by both the dominant culture of a country and the status of ethnic minority
o Assyrian Christians from Iraq
o Circassians from Turkey
• Colonized Peoples – Peoples who experienced pressure to identify with the former ruling class following a history of colonialism:
o Haitians, Caribbean islanders colonized by France
o Filipinos, Pacific islanders ruled at different times by Spain and the U.S.

There has never been more demographic data available to the public than there is now. However, it often requires the careful analysis of experts – like the team at Ethnic Technologies – to interpret this raw data into actionable insights for multicultural marketers and others looking to more deeply understand how Americans see themselves.

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Names from Black History: A Lasting Legacy
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Written by: Tracy Fey

This February, we have reflected on the individuals who have left a lasting legacy on Black history in the United States. Let’s take a look at some iconic names of Black history, the meanings behind those names, and their enduring namesakes.

Sojourner Truth

The name Sojourner comes from the English word sojourn, meaning “a temporary stay”. The word sojourn itself derives roughly from the Latin subdiurnare “to spend the day”.

She was born Isabella Baumfree in New York in 1797, and spoke only Dutch until she was 9 years old. When she was emancipated as an adult, she left the city to travel the countryside and preach her message of abolition; it was at this point that she decided to change her name to Sojourner Truth.
Since her death in 1883, her legacy has been represented in numerous American namesakes, including Sojourner Truth Library at New Paltz State University; The House of Sojourner Truth at King’s College, located inside the Empire State Building; and perhaps the most true to meaning, the NASA Mars Pathfinder mission’s robotic rover named Sojourner.

Booker T. Washington

The name Booker comes from an English occupational surname meaning “maker of books”.

He was born into slavery in 1856, but from his earliest years, he was known only as “Booker”; for many slaves, it was customary of the times to not have any middle name or surname. His mother later informed him that upon his birth, she had initially named him Booker Taliaferro (a prominent family name in eastern Virginia and Maryland), but the second name never caught on. When Booker and his family were emancipated in 1865, he needed a surname to enroll in school, so he took his stepfather’s first name, Washington. Around this same time, he decided to readopt his middle name Taliaferro, and became Booker T. Washington.

As a leader in higher education and social progress, Washington has several prominent namesakes, including Booker T. Washington State Park in Tennessee; the SS Booker T. Washington, a liberty ship used in WWII; the Booker T. Washington Institutes at Tuskegee University and West Virginia University ; and fourteen Booker T. Washington High Schools around the country.

Thurgood Marshall

The name Thurgood is a contraction of the historically Puritan name Thoroughgood, literally meaning “thoroughly good”. It may also be descended from Thurgod, after the Norse god of thunder. Thurgood Marshall was indeed born Thoroughgood Marshall in 1908, but because he did not like the long spelling, he decided to shorten his name in the second grade.

As the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, Marshall has many namesakes relating to American law, education, and civil rights. In 1980, The University of Maryland School of Law named their library the Thurgood Marshall Law Library. The Twelfth Street YMCA Building located in Washington D.C. , which was the first African American chapter of the YMCA, was renamed The Thurgood Marshall Center in 2000. Finally, since 1993, Puerto Rico has given the annual Thurgood Marshall Award, which is given to the top student in civil rights at each of Puerto Rico’s four law schools.

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Is it a Person or a Business?
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Damon Amador, February 22, 2017

Is it a Person or a Business?

If the name field says “Church” is the record a person or a religious institution?

No customer database is perfect; there will always be records that don’t belong, or were entered incorrectly. In order to identify a person’s ethnicity, we need to first identify that a record is, in fact, a person. A record with the name “Gonzales Auto Center” is not a Hispanic person and won’t respond to your offer in the same way as Juan Gonzales would.

E-Tech looks for words that are unique to businesses. Words and phrases like Automobile, Dental, Academy, and Incorporated are clear indicators that the record is not a person.

But what about when words by themselves won’t help? Church is a fairly common last name in the United States. We wouldn’t want to filter out people with this last name. John Church is a person. However, if the full name of this record is St John Evangelist Church, that’s not a person! We look for added phrasal clues such as “Evangelist Church” so as to not confuse the people named Church with religious institutions.

We use our extensive knowledge of names across many ethnicities to enhance this filtering, making sure people don’t get removed. Words like man, urban, shore, hawks, and gala can point towards business records. However, they are also actually names used by people of various ethnicities, some of them pronounced differently from the English words as you first read them. These intricate distinctions contribute to E-Tech’s market-leading accuracy in multicultural identification.

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Ethnic Diversity in 2017 Inauguration Celebrations
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Written by Tracy Fey

No matter what side of the aisle you are on, Inaugural Balls and Galas are some of the biggest events in Washington D.C. These celebrations, which take place every four years at the beginning of a new Presidential term, are hosted by a wide variety of both partisan and nonpartisan American organizations. The 2017 Inauguration saw many diverse political and ethnically representative groups taking part in this 228-year-old tradition.

For example, The Indian American Presidential Inaugural Ball took place at the direction of several nonpartisan Indian American groups including the US-India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) and the Indo-American Center. A record number of Indian Americans have been elected to Congressional offices this term, and a few Indian Americans have been appointed to positions in the new Presidential administration. The Chairman of the USINPAC described the event as “a reason to celebrate and recognize the contributions of these and other members of the Indian American community”.

Additionally, The Latino Coalition, which represents over one million Hispanic-owned small businesses, hosted an inaugural event. The event attracted elected officials and Hispanic business leaders from across the country, and met in hopes “to build on the considerable economic and cultural accomplishments of Hispanic Americans.”

The Asian Pacific American Presidential Inaugural Gala also took place to celebrate the Asian Pacific Americans who had been nominated to serve in the new administration. In addition to celebrating the Inauguration with “performances from communities proudly sharing their rich cultures”, the event served to provide networking opportunities with business and community leaders.

Finally, a few alternative balls took place, including the Peace Ball and the Refugee Ball. The Peace Ball, which took place at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, was a gathering to highlight “the work of peace and justice in the United States and other places in the world”. Meanwhile, the Refugee Ball, hosted by various non-profits, focused on the contributions to society of immigrants and refugees.

This is just a small sample of the hundreds of balls and galas that take please every four years in Washington. These celebrations are a testament to the diversity – both politically and ethnically – of the United States.


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Super Bold: The Politically Responsive Ads of Super Bowl 51
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Written by Tracy Fey

The commercials of Super Bowl 51 had one major theme: our cultural differences make us beautiful. To express this theme of diversity, some advertisers opted to tell a story. Others showcased the corporations’ beliefs directly – and perhaps more boldly.

Story-wise, Anheuser-Busch’s 60-second Budweiser spot had been making waves since last week. The commercial presents the story of the company’s young German founder immigrating to America in the 1850s, and has been praised by some yet criticized as too political by others. 84 Lumber’s 90-second spot about a Mexican mother and young daughter traveling to immigrate to the U.S. has received similar mixed feedback from the public.

By contrast to the buzzworthy stories told by Anheuser-Busch and 84 Lumber, Airbnb placed a fairly straightforward 30-second ad with the message and hashtag #weaccept. Over a series of facial images of ethnically diverse women and men read the words: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong.” While Airbnb didn’t tell one human story, their confident declaration could end up being the event’s most provocative – while also incidentally setting the overall tone of the evening’s advertisements as a whole.

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Parsing Multicultural Names
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Parsing Multicultural Names
Written by: Lisa Spira

What ethnicity is the surname ELKHAIR? It depends how you interpret the written name.
If you look at this name as EL KHAIR, it’s Arabic. KHAIR means good, benevolent, or well-being. EL is one form of the Arabic definite article. This name splits into two Arabic components, each with a specific Arabic meaning. This surname is mainly used in the Northern African Arabic-speaking countries such as Sudan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

If you look at this name as ELK HAIR, it’s Native American. An elk is a large species of deer native to North America. Native Americans frequently take their names from features in their natural environment. If the hair of the elk had significance to a particular tribe of people, over time, that environment feature could have morphed into a name, and into the form of an American surname.
The ELKHAIR phenomenon isn’t unique to surnames.

What ethnicity is a person named DAWON? Again, this depends on how you understand the name.
If her name is DAWON CHOI, she’s probably Korean. The English letters can be mapped back to different Korean characters, such that the meaning of the name can be interpreted in multiple ways. However, Korean first names are usually comprised of two characters, in this case: DA and WON. It’s likely that DA comes from the Korean character for “much, or many” and WON comes from either the character for “first” or the character for “beautiful woman.”

If his name is DAWON WASHINGTON, he’s probably African American. DAWON follows the sound pattern established in DEON, DESHAWN, DAVON, DERON, DEVONTE, DEJUAN, and DEONTE, all names that are popular for African American males. These names have a “DA” sound as a prefix, followed by an “ON” sound in the stressed syllable, followed by an optional final, unstressed syllable. African Americans frequently generate new name variants based on already popular sounds and sound-combination structures. DAWON’s construction follows these naming patterns.

The United States is a multicultural society. When multicultural identities are constrained by English letters, names aren’t always straightforward. The examples above are just the tip of the iceberg. Names are complicated by how we choose to represent different meanings and sounds, but these choices also become an important part of our cultural identities.

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Native American Naming Traditions
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Native American Naming Traditions
written by: Kathy Moore

“American Indians have played a central role in shaping the history of the nation, and they are deeply woven into the social fabric of much of American life…. During the last three decades of the 20th century, scholars of ethnohistory, of the “new Indian history,” and of Native American studies forcefully demonstrated that to understand American history and the American experience, one must include American Indians.”
-Robbie Ethridge, Creek Country

Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Squanto, Geronimo, Sacajawea and Pocahontas… these are the names of a few famous Native Americans who played a very important part in the history of the United States.
Since the first settlers in the US were Native American it is not uncommon to also see Native American names of geographical locations such as Alabama, Illinois, Mississippi, Utah and Wyoming. In fact, twenty-six US states were named by Native Americans.
Native American naming traditions vary depending on each particular tribe. Typically, they are derived from nature, represented by an animal symbolizing desirable characteristics or a certain trait. A Native American name gives us an insight into the personality of the one who possesses it.
Take the famous examples mentioned above:
• CRAZY HORSE (Tȟašúŋke Witk): Lakota: “His-Horse-Is-Crazy”
• SITTING BULL (nicknamed Húŋkešni): Lakota Sioux Plains: “Slow”
• SQUANTO (also known as Tisquantum): Patuxet Tribe: “divine rage”
• GERONIMO: Chiricahua Apache Tribe: “the one who yawns”
• SACAJAWEA: Shoshone: “Bird-woman”
• POCAHONTAS (Born Matoaka, known as Amonute) : Powhatan Tribe: “playful one”

Each name fulfills the purpose of revealing something about the character or temperament of the person or place. Names like these are still in use across America today. Some people receive more than one name, which reflects significant character changes during their lifetime. Legal names are given, but Native American names are earned.

Visit to learn more about E-Tech, the multicultural marketing software that knows all about names and uses that information to accurately predict ethnicity.

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Identifying Central Asian Surnames
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Written by Amy Franz

If you were to meet someone named DAVID YUSIFOV, would you be able to accurately identify the ethnic origin of his surname?

Linguistic intuition might kick in and have you suggest that the surname is Russian, and that would be a wise guess. The surnames IVANOV and KUZNETSOV are among the most common surnames in Russia and are great examples of their Russian nature. Surnames in Russian are no different from other origins in that they often reflect familial or occupational ties. The suffix –ov, or –ova for feminine inflection, loosely translates to “son of” or “daughter of” in English. Sometimes it will indicate that the person is a descendant of a man named Ivan or a blacksmith, which is the case for the names IVANOV and KUZNETSOV, respectively.

So if YUSIFOV has the same ending as the other two surnames, then it must be Russian, right? Well, not quite.

While in a many circumstances a suffix is very telling of the origin of the surname, it’s not the only place to look for hints. YUSIFOV is just one of many surnames that holds significance in its root. YUSIFOV translates into English the same way IVANOV does, meaning “the son of Yusif”. YUSIF and its many spelling variations are the Arabic equivalents to JOSEPH. That’s where the role of the root becomes important.

The majority of Russia’s population identifies as Orthodox Christians, while the nearby Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan) are predominantly Muslim. This is an interesting example of a surname reflecting culture and, more specifically, religion. Joseph is one of the most well-known and prominent figures of the Abrahamic religions, including Islam and Christianity. The combination of the Muslim root and the influence of the Slavic suffix can allow one to deduce that its origins are tied to a Central Asian country as opposed to Russia alone. In fact, the majority of YUSIFOVs can be found in Azerbaijan.

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Amalia Tsiongas stays up to date on Ethnic Marketing through the study of Greek
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Ethnic Technologies is always looking for ways to stay in the front of ethnic marketing.  Our team member Amalia Tsiongas has written about her experience studying the Greek language to better help in her study of ethnically unique and multiculturally sensitive names:

My father and his family are originally from Greece.  In August 2015 I traveled to Greece to participate in two weeks of intensive Greek language study at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Through the connections I made during my stay, I was introduced to Anna Patsoni, a Greek linguist who earned her degree at the university.  Since my return I have continued my Greek language study through specialized one-on-one instruction from Ms. Patsoni over Skype.

This opportunity to learn about my roots and about the language and culture of my family demonstrates thought leadership and helps to strengthen our team of culturally sensitive ethnic experts.  Providing our clients with multicultural marketing solutions that are specific to the Greek community is key in burgeoning international markets like Canada, Brazil and Australia.  In addition, a knowledge of Greek provides invaluable insight into the roots of many popular first names, for example: Stephen, Alexander, Christopher, Andrew, Zoe, and Melissa, meaning continued improvement to our flagship product.

Amalia Tsiongas
Senior Product Design Strategist

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