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Ethnic Names and Codes:  Correlating People Lists
How Codes in the Registry of Peoples Enrich the Exchange of Ethnic Information

Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Why the differences in people groups names between the ROP and another database of ethnicities, Peoplegroups.org.  For example, #105463 is called “Kurteop” in ROP and “Gurtu” by Peoplegroups.org?

The Registry of Peoples (ROP) is a compilation of many sources, both historical and current.  Names vary considerably, by language, academic fashion, national versus local or international language, etc.  Thus there can be no authoritative name, but the ROP tries to reference the most commonly used variations.

The ROP Documentation states that each entry in the Registry is defined by two Identifiers.  This is the unique code and the recommended, or reference, name.  The documentation explains the Name Identifier this way:
"Names are identifiers recommended as standard reference names.  Each reference name is based on the self-name or a representative construct name of an ethnic entity as determined by the Registry Editor."

In defining the Registry contents, The Documentation goes on to explain that a table of Alternate Names is provided to assist in identification of an ethnic entity across various sources. There are many names for some ethnic groups that a database might use for valid reasons.

Thus the ROP Name is only one name that a client database might choose to use. The name is not the definitive identifier, but the code, which is unique to each entity, no matter what name is used.

Too Many Names
Think about it a moment.  It would be impossible for the ROP to have all the names any database might have used for a particular ethnic entity.  How many databases are there?  How many different names might there be for a particular ethnic entity?  If the ROP used one name, it would agree with some, not with others.  If it chose a different name, it would agree with some different ones, but not the first set.  And many others would be left out.

There are many applicable names for some ethnic groups.  And each may be recommended for valid reasons from various perspectives.   A codeset provides one unique code for each defined ethnicity.

To Standardize or not to Standardize
The various names for some ethnic groups have useful and valuable connotative value within certain working contexts.  Various names are valid from different perspectives.

Name choice differences is only one of the many details of logistics that caused information exchange and sharing to founder for about 20 years — no one could agree on one name, one way of organizing the information, one set of fields everyone would carry, one common "view" of ethnicity.

Preserve the Wealth
If all data were combined into one super-database as the standard list of peoples of the world, the diversity of sourcing and perspective would be lost, and the focus would shift to the structure and form of the information.  Every research teams or agency had its own perspectives and goals and communication or engagement strategies.

Each had its own view of what it was discovering and of how to analyze and organize and classify.  Each would have information important at its level of insight or communication strategy.  Who would agree to lose some of the valuable information determined in their particular perspective that might not be pertinent to some other agency or academic endeavour?

There may be many names but only one unique code.  This code enables an unambiguous point of connection between the same or similar entity in two or more databases.  Entities across databases can be matched no matter what name each database prefers.

Share the Wealth
Local or regional research teams had much more data they considered important.  But world databases had a more global perspective.  This diversity of findings, interpretations, approaches to classification and bodies of findings must be kept and accommodated.  Yet there needs to be a way to compare and exchange even across the variety and diversity of form and content.

This is the purpose of a codeset.  Why lose anybody's information.  Find a way to share anybody's data, a way to exchange and compare by ethnic identity, so everyone can gain access to what anyone knows, and no one has to compromise what they consider important.

The total wealth of knowledge about the ethnicities of the world grows.  The real-world diversity is preserved.  The focus can remain on discovering what is out there, not on trimming everybody's information down to a standardized, homogenized formalized system.  After all, don't we want to know the real truth about who people consider themselves to be?

Diversity of Names
Names derive from many varied considerations, not least the language being used, the format of adaptation of local names into standard data conventions and world language forms.  Names that are shown as the primary ROP name vary according to various sources, current usage, and priorities of updating various people clusters.

For the entity 105463, common alternative names are given as Gurtu and Kurthopkha.  These should assist in clarifying the identity where names differ in a database.  Alternate Names in the ROP, as well as representative population figures from major sources, should provide a good cross-check for code identification.  It should be of importance, primarily when a database is making its initial correlation to the codeset.  The alternate names and sample populations should help in clarifying and confirming which ethnic entity a code should be assigned to.

An Example
To illustrate how this might appear, I note that the Joshua Project also has Kurteop as the primary name, using the ROP recommended name.  They likewise list several alternate names, which are all various spellings of the two shown in the ROP.

People Name This Country:
People Name General:
People Name This Country:
People Name General:
Alternate People Names:   Gurtu   Kurthopka   Kurthopkha   Kurtobi   Zhake   Kurtokha   Kurtopa
      — http://www.joshuaproject.net/peopctry.php?rog3=BT&rop3=105463

In checking this entity in PeopleGroups.org, I find they have one alternative name only, Kurtokha.  I don't have any background information to determine why they chose Gurtu as the primary entry, and why the more commonly found (but seemingly older) Kurteop does not appear to be there.  This is not a matter of import, however.  See last section.

PeopleGroups.org records are managed by a network of researchers in each region of the world, who work directly with on-site sources.  Thus naming varies, and is more a matter of "feel" than anything else, usually giving preference to local sensibilities.  This is an example of the variety of considerations and perspectives that are a part of real-world discovery.  Standardization and homogenization of data are not worthy goals.

Accounting For Discovery
The goal is to discover what is really out there.  Those real human social units that cohere and interact; that change as generations pass, as technologies change, as life goes on.  Ours is a task of ongoing discovery, not of setting in stone some final chart of classifications that will be outdated within 20 years as normal cultural change continues.

As we discover, we must try to account for what we find.  Each little bit of information on the extremely complex phenomenon of human ethnicity will help clarify, modify and enlighten our understanding of any particular ethnicity and of the concept of ethnicity.  It is a process of discovery and of a faithful and consistent way of accounting for what we discover.

The World vs the Data Picture
We need to distinguish between the ethnicity we are attempting to discover and our systematic attempts to account for ethnicities in our databases.  Databases and people lists are by definition abstractions, and therefore always to some degree artificial and arbitrary. Standardization is necessary to make the database cataloguing work.  By necessity a database has to include some information or "data" and leave some out.

What you leave in or leave out represents your particular view, your understanding up to that point, or your focus and goals, which determine what you need for your purposes.  The goals, views and purposes of other agencies and their database will differ.  The name under which you choose to list an entity is determined by many factors pertinent to your particular situation, language, academic or political milieu, perspectives, goals and intentions.

Proprietary Quantitative View
The design of the database determines the view that results from the listing in that particular database.  Thus we are of necessity working with an incomplete picture when we consider any one database or people list.  Additionally we encounter the problem that databases deal with discrete bits of information.  They are quantitative.

A database depends of a certain quantity in a certain field.  Each field much have one certain bit of information.  Each "field" where you enter something is one "quantity."  It may be a number or a description, a name or a choice from a list, like a religion.  All these have an abstract and limiting quality, and thus an artificial character, because each is separated from the complex environment of the whole culture.

Each field must be defined.  When you define what will go into that field, you have by definition defined what cannot go into it.  This is the necessarily arbitrary character of the situation.  If you put information into a database, the database design and intention determines how much of the total ethnicity you will be able to see in that database.  Each bit of information your database cannot accommodate is one little insight into that ethnicity that will be missed.  But no database can include a complete picture of any ethnicity, with the atomized bits of data that must be defined and included or not included.

That bit will be included or highlighted in another database.  Databases represent primarily quantitative information.  A term, a number, a definition, a description.  These are discrete bits of information that can be separated and analyzed, sorted for perspective.  This is a valuable way to gain insight, to analyze and compare what one researcher, team or agency knows or values about what it has discovered.  But this mean that what you have chosen to include necessarily skews your perspective in comparison to what you have chosen not to include.  This is simply one aspect of our "human condition."

Qualitative Reality
The overall essence of human society, however, is qualitative.  It is an intertwined unit of complex relationships, characteristics, activities, beliefs, practices and organization.  This is best captured in narrative description.  This might be a full ethnography, a cultural description, a collection of stories, a historical summary, a genetic or social accounting or a simple profile.

Databases can't capture this.  That partly explains the popularity of Cultural Profiles, which provide a unified story or coherent description, though any "profile" is also limited.  The individual bits of information a database organizes into its discrete fields only represent the full social and cultural context.  The discrete bits of data in each field highlight aspects of the overall integrated qualitative picture that makes up human ethnicity.

Different Views
A database also must decide on a boundary between similar entities.  Each data view may have a different view of how and where along the continuum of similar ethnic groups, villages, clans, families, or lineages to draw its line.

All these abstract organizational factors are characteristics of our desire to systematize and organize what we are finding.  This is not the end goal, but rather our goal is to account for and represent the real-world cultural realities as they are experienced by the social or kinship groups themselves.

Thus various databases may prefer to identify smaller related groups separately, whereas they may be coded in the ROP and other client databases as one entity with identifiable segments.  Where possible, alternate names and sub-group divisions are mentioned in the memos in ROP, to assist in matching individual entities or groups of entities to the appropriate code in the ROP.

Rich Diversity
The purpose of a codeset like the Registry of Peoples is not to provide a more complete or more correct picture of ethnicity.  It is to provide a mechanism for any or all databases to look into other databases, compare information and exchange information without losing their unique individual views or their valuation of particular features that might not be important to others.

We need everyone's input.  We need everyone's information.  We need to garner the diversity of views and content.  The ROP codeset provides a junction for comparing and exchanging any or all information attached to any ethnicity coded to the codeset.

The names are reviewed any time a review occurs for any purpose.  Names are not necessarily changed to match any particular source or user database.  Attempts are made on an ongoing basis to clarify entities and redefine entities as more is learned about the relationship between related entities.  A change of name is one of the factors considered in identification and clarification.

A Codeset
Note that the Registry of Peoples is not a database of ethnicities.  It is a codeset, assigning a unique code to each people entry.  The primary purpose of the ROP is to "define" entities.  The code is the technical name by which comparison and correlation is facilitated among the various databases using the ROP codeset.  The name under which an entity is found in the ROP is not definitive, but only descriptive.  The unique code together with that name and the descriptive information ideally enables a cross-correlation.

The code, then, is the common factor in identification across various databases.  The benefit of the code system is the ability to match entities in various databases, without the need to have the same name or data attached to the name.  The code, if assigned correctly in the user database, should refer to the same entity known in the ROP by that number.

Kurteop Reprise
I did a quick check just to see what names came up for this ethnic entity.  Here is a list of some of the first ones I found:

Kurteop — Bhutan News Online
Native Planet (Preserving Cultures)
Travel — Feathered Pipe Foundation
Prayer Guard

Related Articles on this Website:
Classifying Ethnicity:  Coding and Comparing Ethnic Information:
        How the Peoples and Languages Codes of the Harvest Information System Facilitate a Broader Knowledge Base of World Ethnicity
Ethnicities and Names
Lists, Codes and Real-World Ethnicity:  Thoughts on People Group Information Exchange
Ethnicity in a Multi-cultural Society:
         What is Meant by "Hispanic" or "Latino" in the United States?
Rough Edges of Ethnicity

Related on the Internet:
ROP Identifiers, Recommended Names, Alternate Names and other ROP Tables

Also view related PowerPoint Presentations:
Identifying a People Group


Topic first addressed in response to an email query 10 January 2008
Expanded and finalized as an article for OJTR 29 April 2008
Last edited 4 July 2012

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2008 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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