What’s In a Name?

Steve Harvey knows it matters!

At the risk of being redundant, I do love Wikipedia. Without it, I would never have had exposure to the word disambiguation.  (It’s been a long time since I sat for the SAT, and consequently, a long time since I’ve learned any highfaluting vocabulary words.)  Wikipedia resolves ambiguity by clarifying a word, phrase, or person with additional identifying information.  This is a great benefit for the inexperienced.  For example, imagine you are invited by friends to the U of M for winter break.  I know you can have fun anywhere, you party animal, but knowing whether you are traveling to the University of Miami or the University of Minnesota will inform your decision about bringing your Canada Goose.

Likewise, librarians also clarify material to assist readers in making informed choices.  Suppose you need information about George Wallace.  Now here’s a question…..which one?  There are quite a few of them. There is George Wallace, the comedian, and George Wallace, the dead American governor and notorious segregationist.  Believe me, they couldn’t be more different.  Which would you prefer?   (I’ll take the funny one, thank you!)

To differentiate people, those meticulous folk at the Library of Congress have created “authorized” headings.  They provide additional information about the individual, such as the date of birth, date of death (only if there is one – the Library of Congress does not prognosticate), possible name variants, and should you go deeper into the record, clues regarding the individual’s occupation.

Wallace, George C. (George Corley), 1919-1998 is the official name heading for the Alabama governor.  Note how the heading details both the dates of birth and death, along with a middle name.  Full view of the record indicates that this George Wallace was a governor.

Wallace, George, 1952- is the official heading for the jokester from Georgia.  The official record indicates that it obtained information about this George Wallace from his Internet Movie Database (IMDB) page.

You think it’s so easy?  Not really.  Let me give you an example, by way of the scenic route.

Although we do some original cataloging, Touro College Libraries, like most libraries, uploads the bulk of our records directly from the Library of Congress.

Here is one such record, highlighting provided by me:

Baldwin recordI was searching for material written about James Baldwin, the writer,  when I came upon the record above.

Below is a photograph of James Baldwin.

James Baldwin

James Baldwin is often described as many things: a novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and activist. (He was a regular Harlem Renaissance man.) Although some of his work has been categorized as psychological fiction, I can say with certainty that this James Baldwin was NOT a psychologist.   Inspection of the eBook revealed a chapter about Baldwin.  Take a look:

eBookSure it’s about Baldwin –not Alec, William, Stephen, or Daniel, but James Mark Baldwin, a completely different guy.  And like a good and dutiful New Yorker, if I see something, I say something.  So it was my turn to report the error to the Library of Congress, using their handy, dandy Error Reporting Form.

LC Error Report FormAnd here is the result:  LOC emailWhat’s in a name? Plenty. If ever you are in doubt about an individual, a little fact checking will help you avoid perpetuating identity theft.

Contributed by: Carol Schapiro, Librarian, Midtown

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