Word Etymologies: Initial Occupancy and Family Names

The tombstones of German immigrants to southern Indiana convey the heritage of those buried beneath them in both form and inscription. Warren subtly attempted to direct his graduate students to writing a dissertation on the concept of initial occupancy and the rate at which immigrants shed the symbols of their heritage. After how many years in Indiana, or after how many generations did Germans abandon the German cross and their native language? The dissertation that Warren hoped for was never written.

"I want to turn now to another topic, namely the concept of initial occupancy and family names. Folklife researchers and cultural geographers are rightly concerned with the concept of initial occupancy. It holds that the first settlers in a region of the United States will establish a number of patterns in such elements of culture as architecture, agriculture, and speech. Later immigrants to the area will tend to conform to the patterns established by the first settlers even though the later comers may have been from an area with rather different patterns. This concept is of great importance in dealing with many aspects of folklife and folklore..."

"It is generally accepted that the largest number of the early settlers of southern Indiana were of Scotch-Irish ancestry. There are many family names probably indicating Scotch-Irish ancestry in Monroe County whose county seat is Bloomington. Many of these names do not appear in the usual reference books on family names, so that it is impossible to be certain. However, a large number of very common names in the county appear to be of Pennsylvania German origin. Such are: Bohall, Deckard, Holtsclaw, Kinser, Swango, Wampler, and Zikes. These names are not only common in the telephone directories but also are names found in old, rural cemeteries. They show that the initial occupants who established important patterns in the county were clearly not a homogenous group for large numbers were Scotch-Irish while large numbers were Pennsylvania Germans. It is likely that the family names cited are the best source of information on this topic."

"Hoosier and Family Names,” in Viewpoints, 47-48.