Unkind Words: Ethnic Labeling from Redskin to WASP

By Irving Lewis Allen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
TWO HUNDRED PERSONAL NAMES THAT BECAME EPITHETS

MANY PERSONAL NAMES, mostly given or first names, came to be used as generic nicknames for persons of various ethnic groups over the course of American social history. I found about two hundred such terms for thirty-five different ethnic groups. About one in six of all ethnic epithets in American historical slang is formed on a personal name.

Most are names popularly associated with various groups, such as Mike and Murphy for Irishmen, Ole for Swedish men, Hans for German men, Tony for Italian men, Closh for Dutchmen, Abe for Jewish men, Ivan for Russian men, Lize or Liza for black women, and Bridget for Irish women. Others are personal names derived from popular historical associations, literary characters studied in the schoolroom, popular verse, folklore, and the popular culture of the mass media. A few examples are Jeff Davis or just Jeff for a white ethnic Southerner, Hiawatha for a Native American, Johnny Cake for a French Canadian, Hans Wurst for a German, and Sapphire for a black woman.

All the words in this and subsequent chapters may be found in scholarly records. Many of the terms were ephemeral, and most are now obsolete or obsolescent, though a few may be heard today. These terms were collected for the most

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