We take so much for granted in our own time and space. Last names for instance. In this world of easy ancestry research, one would think that everyone has a last name and has had so for generations. Not so.

 It appears that last names could have come into being by governments of times past in an effort to control the populations, give order to the populations and identify them, much like an ID card would attempt to do so now.

It also appears that everyday Fred, Bill or Jo would confuse the ID issue to the point of anarchy. Gathering family members under one last name allows authorities to know who you are, who you belong to and from whence you came.

 Afghanistan is presently conducting a long needed nationwide census to urge people to take on surnames. The New York Times  recently wrote that governments need fixed names for families to keep track of people, to draft them and to tax them. The Afghan embassy in Washington, DC, according to the article referred to at the top by Edward Delman, has noted the move to establish last names would help the government to know the numbers of the population; to avoid voter fraud and keep the peace. Delman says the Afghans can choose whatever surname they like.

 Speaking of past government control by the use of surnames, Delman says of Spanish colonial authorities:  In 1849, Governor Narciso Claveria decreed that Filipinos be assigned hereditary surnames. Up until that point, most Filipinos had a single name, which made it difficult to operate a bureaucracy. Delman said Claveria released a catalogue of names for families to be assigned a surname, which was enforced by the education system and local parish priests.  

 Delman claims modern-day Turks also have government-enforced surnames. He says in 1934 the Turkish government introduced the measure to help build a modern, westernized nation out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Even though Turkey was a multi-ethnic and multi-faith state, The Surname Law sought to eradicate any personal markers that might differentiate a non-Turk from the greater Turkish state. This was to create a Turkey national identity for the multi-cultural society.

 Centuries before, central and eastern European countries made similar changes, introducing surnames. However, the Jewish community resisted this move, that community lacking surnames prior to 1787. But in that year, Emperor Joseph II of the Habsburg Empire decreed all Jews in all provinces be urged to adopt a constant surname. The compulsory adoption of German surnames helped Joseph’s larger goal of controlling Jewish people for the welfare of the State in general, according to Delman. Prussia, Bavaria the Russian Empire and other states with large Jewish populations followed suit over the next century. Prussion and Russian Jews were denied citizenship if they did not abide by the rule.  Many claimed the giving of surnames to the Jews was just one more oppressive move to control and persecute them.

 In more recent times in Bulgaria, formerly part of the Ottoman Empire and historically home to the Turkish and Bulgarian Muslims (known as Pomaks) citizens were pressured to regain their’original Bulgarian identity’ during communist rule. Even Turkish names in cemeteries were erased. This renaming effort, in concert with the repression of Turkish cultural expression, induced a mass exodus of ethnic Turks to Turkey. Those Turks who remained were only permitted to reassert their Turkish identity—and reclaim their Turkish names—after the fall of the communist government in 1989. Delman says.

 Delman says surnames enabled more sophisticated forms of government control and administration. But these days, some political scientists say birth and death certificates, specific addresses (2 Smith Street Smithville NSW rather than ‘somewhere along the Castlereagh’), identity cards, passports, social security numbers, photographs, fingerprints and now DNA are now replacing the surname as a political tool to control the population.