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Open Thread Thursday: What’s In A Name?

open thread

This week’s topic for Open Thread Thursday is:

Do you wonder if the terminology currently in use to describe someone who pursues genealogy passionately yet for personal reasons and not as a profession is inadequate?

Are you an amateur genealogist? A hobby genealogist? A family historian? A non-professional genealogist?

Post your responses in the comments or at a post on your own genealogy blog and place the link here in the comments.

What Am I?

This discussion is an offshoot of a great social media discussion started over at The Geneabrarian Reference Desk blog late last week.  See her post Eliminating the Hobby from Genealogy and take time to read the comments.  Two days later she did a discussion round up on her blog here. Other genealogy blogging colleagues entered the discussion with their own posts, most notable Elyse Doerflinger of Elyse’s Genealogy Blog with Why Bother With Genealogy?

I often struggle with what to call myself in the genealogy community as well as the field since I do consider myself a professional genealogist.  I’m sure many others have names for me, some of which I can’t reprint here and believe me I’ve heard them either right to my face or second and third hand.

Could this be a situation where, at least in the English language, there just isn’t an adequate word to describe the genealogist who is not quite an amateur, does not make a living from their research and efforts, yet has the passion and skills that can often exceed those of a professional genealogist?

For me beginner, newbie, amateur and hobbyist seem to convey a sense of “less than” when used in contrast to professional genealogist.  I tried to look at other professions to see if there was an amateur designation.  I though of plumbers – are there casual plumbers? Amateur plumbers?  Folks who wake up Saturday morning and say, “Hey, I want to work on improving those pipes under the sink!”  Of course there are . . . we call them DIYers or Do-It-Yourselfers.  But that doesn’t seem to work for genealogy in my mind.

Names and The Power of Naming

When I was pursuing my M.Div at seminary (yes, shocked arent’ you?), one of the things I remarked upon was how in the Creation story in Genesis, Adam was given the power of naming the animals that had been created.  There is great power in the ability to name something or someone and great responsibility.

Many of us were probably called names growing up, some of us more so because we stood out in the crowd for some reason or another.  Our parents told us that names don’t hurt, that they are only words.  But words and names do have power and they can hurt.  We all have probably experienced this.

And then there is the issue of reclaiming a name and the power inherent in that.  I won’t delve into details but I know this through various minority communities and there is still intense dialog about the use of derogatory names and using them within the community and calling each other by those names.

In some cultures and beliefs, there are different names for the same person: the name the Creator gives you, the name your parents give you, the name that stature and reputation and the community gives you, and, most importantly in my opinion, the name you give yourself.

There is great power in being able to name yourself and claim that name that best describes what you are and what you do and your role in any community.  I am still looking for that name.

And Does It Matter?

Does it really matter that we worry about names and what to call ourselves? Are we too worried how others within the field of genealogy and outside the field will see us? I’m not sure. I struggle with this on a weekly basis because one of my goals in embracing the concept of abundant genealogy is to make sure that those new to the field feel welcome yet understand fully what it takes to be a genealogist – a genealogist at any level of investment or skill level.


This is a great topic for this week’s Open Thread Thursday! And please, if you have a topic you’d like to see discussed among your genealogy blogging colleagues, please contact us and we’ll take it under consideration.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

10 thoughts on “Open Thread Thursday: What’s In A Name?

  1. Regarding plumbers and other skilled professions, people who were in training used to be called “apprentices,” which sounds better than beginner, amature, etc. However, that still does not solve the problem of what to call people who performs professional-level genealogy work yet do not make it their livelihood.

  2. While we wrestle with “names” within our genealogical community, few remarks have been made about how those outside the genealogical community view the term “professional genealogist.”

    When this topic cycled through its many incarnations on the old APG lists, some of us challenged others to do mini-surveys outside our genealogy circles. I won’t speak to what others reported, but to a person, those I queried respondend that of course a professional genealogist was one engaged in the vocation of genealogical activities. (Paraphrasing)

    It would be rare when a governmental agency, an attorney, a court, etc. searched for a “professional genealogist” with a goal of finding someone who researched as an avocation.

    Regardless of how we name ourselves within our little geenealogy pond, those outside our pond do seem to have a much clearer expectation that a professional genealogist is one engaged in the vocation.

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