Personal names to study diversity?

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French researchers have used patronyms to explore diversity amongst different population groups and professions. In France, where ethnic statistics are not collected, this new approach provides interesting insights about French society.

Antoine Mazières and Camille Roth, respectively post-doct at Marc Bloch Centre in Berlin and professor at Sciences Po Paris, have used statistical methods to assign a likely geographic origin to patronyms in France. Then, they analysed diversity of names in various datasets (Parliament Members, Mayors, Veterinarians, Researchers at CNRS, Accountants, Pharmacists, École Polytechnique -which is France’s top school-, Parisian Lawyers, Baccalaureate, Medical Doctors, Nurses …)

Large-scale diversity estimation through surname origin inference
To be published in Bullettin of Sociological
Antoine Mazières and Camille Roth

The study of surnames as both linguistic and geographical markers of the past has proven valuable in several research fields spanning from biology and genetics to demography and social mobility. This article builds upon the existing literature to conceive and develop a surname origin classifier based on a data-driven typology. This enables us to explore a methodology to describe large-scale estimates of the relative diversity of social groups, especially when such data is scarcely available. We subsequently analyze the representativeness of surname origins for 15 socio-professional groups in France.

Their findings are presented in Le Monde, one of France’s most prominent newspaper :

We don’t present explanations on potential causality, we only bring evidence of over-representation or under-representation. We don’t use the word ‘discrimination’ for example, said Antoine Mazières. But those results raise questions and could trigger more qualitative research.

NamSor, which provides similar services based on both patronyms and given names, is cited in that same article :

Analysing personal names can be cheaper, faster to implement that ethnic statistics. The challenge is to ensure a positive use of these data mining techniques, said Elian Carsenat, founder of NamSor SAS. For a poor country, mapping and engaging its diaspora can unlock significant contributions for its development.

About NamSor

NamSor™ Applied Onomastics is a European vendor of sociolinguistics software (NamSor sorts names). NamSor mission is to help understand international flows of money, ideas and people. We proudly support Gender Gap Grader.
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