Copyright held by The John Cooke Fraud Report. Reprint rights are granted with attribution to The John Cooke Fraud Report with a link to this website.
Understanding the naming conventions of other cultures is important for an investigator or for anyone wishing to certainly and correctly identify people in our diverse country. The following column is an attempt to assist the reader in correctly applying the conventions of uniquely ethnic names so identification is possible. This article should not be interpreted as indicating any unusual prevalence of any specific ethnic group toward unlawful or immoral activities, since no such intention exists. In each issue of The John Cooke Fraud Report, we will explore the mysteries of the naming practices of different ethnic cultures.
In this issue, we look at Gypsy names. Although there are three main cultural subgroups of Gypsies in the United States, each with its own language and customs, for our purposes we will concentrate primarily on the Rom, the largest subgroup in North America. Fortune-telling, ornate costumes and a nomadic lifestyle are some of the colorful images evoked when considering the exotic culture of the Gypsies. It is a largely undocumented culture, shrouded in mystery. The naming practices within the community, however, are comparatively ordinary and common – at least on the surface.
There are numerous sub-cultures included under the Gypsy heading. The very common surnames (ie: Adams, Lee, Marks, Evans, Smith) usually belong to the “Rom,” the American Gypsies, who are third and fourth generation in this country and the most nomadic in lifestyle. In most instances, they have traded in old country family names for an Americanized version; for instance, Martinov becomes Martin or Martino. Seeing the name Martinov, unchanged, would imply that the person was a first-generation Eastern European Gypsy.
With such conventional nomenclature, one may wonder what there is to investigate. Certainly any English-speaking investigator can read and understand John Lee or Peter Smith. However, how does the same investigator cope with 100 John Lees or 50 Peter Smiths – many with the same legal birthday and within the same extended family or clan? One veteran investigator, working on a fraud case in the Midwest, discovered that over 30 percent of the men in one extended family all had the same legal name – and many of those had claimed January 1 as their legal birth date. Is it sheer coincidence that so many women give birth on the first day of the new year? No – the high percentage of January 1 birthdates is attributable to very late birth registration of these children/adults. When it comes time to obtain identification papers, for whatever reason, the true date of birth has often been long forgotten and the first day of the remembered year is claimed as the date of the actual birth.
Historically persecuted throughout the world, most Gypsy clans, above all, wish to preserve their unique identities safely apart from the general public. They are often chameleon-like in their efforts to blend into the backdrop of society.
There are approximately one million Gypsies living in the United States; more accurate estimates are difficult to obtain because of the strong isolationism within the culture itself. Most are not registered at birth, or with census or draft boards. Many never attend school. Anonymity and invisibility are paramount within Gypsy cultures. Having 100 John Peter Smiths in a single community is construed by some investigators as an attempt to purposely confuse rather than a simple liking for the name; however this same-name naming practice is much more prevalent within the English, Irish or Scottish Travelers groups.
There is no written Gypsy language except for attempts by non-gypsy scholars to reduce the spoken language to writing. The vast majority of Gypsies do not read and write in any language. There is a world-wide language among the Rom called Romano Swato in the more refined version of the language, or Romani, Romany or Romanes among the lower caste Gypsies.
Typically, many Rom or Eastern European Gypsies will have at least two names. They may have one or more non-Gypsy or “nave gajikano” names (such as Pete Adams or Leo Lee) for use among the “gafe” or non-Gypsy community – including any public agencies. These names are easy to remember and write, since illiteracy is widespread in many Gypsy communities. The lack of academic skills is often attributable to the cultural need to be totally segregated from the American “system.” Children are not registered at birth and they are often not sent to school.
Gypsies are also given a “nave romano,” a true birth name such as “Washo le Zurkosko,” or Washo, son of Zurca, and “Mara o Spirosko” or Mary, daughter of Spiro. Additionally, they have a “vitsa” name identifying their extended family, but this is rarely used even within the community. Finally, most also have nicknames used only by close friends or family. Sometimes the nickname is uncomplimentary; a Rom currently serving a Federal prison sentence in connection with insurance fraud crimes is known to family and friends as “Rat Face.”
If an alias name is used, frequently it will consist of only a first and a last name. The name will most often be easy to pronounce and remember. Sometimes it will be recognizable from television or from the movies. When the Rom use alias names, they usually choose short names with simple spellings.
The nomadic Rom move often – sometimes within hours. The Czech, Polish, Yugoslavian and Hungarian Gypsies are more likely to have established family roots and domiciles in large cities. The Travelers establish communities where they may build and own homes, but they are often gone for months at a time, traveling throughout the country.
Upon marriage, sometimes arranged by the family before birth, a woman is taken into her husband’s family. In some cases, contact with her birth family is curtailed or cut off completely; she now “belongs” to her new family. Inter-family marriages are still common, sometimes even between first cousins. Marriage, however, doesn’t seem to impact legal naming practices. Legal names within the Gypsy culture generally have little bearing on family connections and are merely used to deal with the system – the world outside of the community.
These factors can add up to somewhat of a nightmare for investigators attempting to identify fraudulent claims within the Gypsy community. It would certainly be helpful, for the sake of identification, to have the true first name (nave romano) and extended family (vitsa) name in addition to the legal name appearing on drivers’ licenses, social security cards, etc. Although it would be quite easy to fabricate such family names, any person within the Gypsy community attempting to defraud might have second thoughts when claims professionals are armed with these types of probing questions.
Commonly seen name variations will involve the adding, subtracting or exchanging of a letter or letters. Certain “red flags” that suggest the need for a far closer check of the claimant’s identity include the inability to produce any formal picture ID – or – the production of out-of-state laminated ID cards that have been purchased either by mail or in specialty shops. Middle-aged claimants with brand new Social Security cards or other new appearing identification may also be suspect. Indexing Gypsy claimants calls for a sharp eye for detail and plenty of tenacity. The telltale “front” addresses, rented phone lines and multiple claims can help an investigator identify suspected fraud, but sufficient proof is another matter altogether. Remember that these naming practices are sometimes designed to isolate and protect individuals within the Gypsy community from the general public. When fraud becomes apparent, this can make the investigator’s job more challenging than ever.
COMMON AMERICAN GYPSY (ROM) NAMES (Typically third or fourth generation USA)
Adams, Adamo, Angelo, Bellao, Bimbo, Bimoso, Black, Bumbalow, Buster, Butch, Christo, Christin, Cooper, Cord, Costa, Costello, Dimitro, Demetro, Eli, Ely, Evans, Frank, George, James, Jeffrey, Jennings, John, Johns, Johnson, Johnston, Jones, King, Lane, Lee, Leo, Marino, Marks, Martin, Metlo, Metlow, Miguel, Milano, Miller, Mitchell, Mitlow, Montes, Nicholas, Nichols, Powers, Reaves, Reed, Reid, Ristich, Ristick, Risti, Ristie, Ross, Scott, Signo, Smith, Stanley, Steve, Stevens, Stevenson, Stoaka, Stokes, Tan, Tani, Thompson, Tene, Tom, Uanno, Udo, Ulrich, Urich, Wanko, Wasso, White, Williams, Wilson, Wood, Yonko, Zeko, Ziko, Zitko.
COMMON TRAVELERS NAMES (English, Irish, Scottish Tinkers)
Baillie, Bishop, Boswell, Burke, Carroll, Collins, Corrigan, Costello, Gorman, Gregg, Halliday, Harrison, Holiday, Johnson, Johnston, Keith, Mack, McDonald, MacDonald, McGavin, McMillan, Muholland, O’Hara, Parks, Reid, Reilly, Riley, Scott, Sherlock, Small, Smalley, Stanley, Stewart, Wells, Williams, Williamson.
EASTERN EUROPEAN STYLE NAMES Yugoslavian, Polish, Romanian, etc. (Typically first generation USA) Yugoslavian:
Angelo, Bogdanov, Corsi, Denikov, Djenikov, Dobobrov, Dobrou, Domanoff, Dragon, Genisov, Ginisov, Genison, Grujic, Ischn, Iunov, Ivanon, Ivanov, Ivanovi, Jansen, Jeneko, Josipovic, Jovanovic, Knapek, Komarov, Konovalov, Konstantinov, Korotkov, Krietzman, Kuznikov, Kwiek, Lucki, Marko, Martinov, Miramarr, Moro, Muhmaremi, Nonro, Nunro, Pavlov, Petrov, Petrovic, Pirvu, Ptrov, Rodijekov, Rodikov, Romanov, Sadrinovic, Sarov, Slavic, Teikin. Polish, others: Andrzej, Bamberger, Bambula, Barbinski, Barczewska, Barczewski, Bogdanowicz, Brzezinska, Brzezinski, Ciecierska, Ciecierski, Cybulska, Dabrowska, Danielewicz, Danis, Debowska, Debowski, Dembrowski, Demetro, Dolinska, Dolinski, Donbrowski, Dytlow, Frydrych, Gembec, Glowacka, Glowacki, Gowman, Grabowska, Grabowski, Horvath, Jablonska, Jaworska, Joblowski, Jodlowski, Kaczmerek, Kaminska, Kaminski, Kolompar, Kosinowski, Koval, Kovansa, Kowalska, Kowalski, Kozlowska, Koznof, Koztovcka, Kruzik, Ktos, Kurczynska, Kwiatkowski, Lakaposz, Lakatos, Lakatosz, Majewska, Majewski, Malinowska, Malinowski, Mankiewick, Markowska, Markowski, Novak, Nowak, Ostrowski, Packowska, Packowski, Palkowski, Parczewska, Parczewski, Pawlowska, Pawlowski, Pihik, Polanski, Rapacinska, Rapacinski, Rosiewicz, Rozycki, Rybicki, Sabo, Sak, Slavak, Slavic, Sloska, Stefan, Stojka, Tabaczek, Telesz, Wackowska, Wackowski, Wisniewska, Wloch, Zielinska, Zielinski.
*Note: Not everyone having one of these names is of gypsy descent – and not all those of gypsy descent carry one of the above listed names.
There are 15 “It’s All in a Name” articles available in the johncooke.com website archives. Indian? Russian? Hispanic? They’re all there!
Good Old Boy (American)
And probably a few more …