The First World War and the disappearance of surnames in France: A trial estimation based on the Galton–Watson model

By Pierre Darlu, Pascal Chareille, James Tovey

The possible reduction of the stock of surnames attributable to the First World War (1914–1918) in France has yet to be explored. This article offers an estimate of the extent of this reduction by taking into account the random effects of the disappearance of surnames according to the Galton–Watson process, the distribution of the number of children per household, and the proportion of surnames of a given number of bearers. Estimates have been based on the French Ministry of Defence’s electronic file, which includes French soldiers killed during the First World War, and on INSEE’s surname file. While the human losses attributable to the war are unevenly distributed throughout the country, with a higher number north of a La Rochelle–Mulhouse line, a different geographical pattern emerges with greater extinctions in the Pyrénées, Corsica, and Brittany. The extinction of surnames actually represents only a small proportion of all the surnames of those who died for France (1.4%). By department, this observation is at odds with the Galton–Watson model, which predicts a larger proportion of extinctions due to the constitution of the two files and the formulated demographic hypotheses.

  • First World War
  • France
  • surnames
  • Morts pour la France
  • Galton-Watson process
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