Are you aware that the entire nation of Mongolia has not used surnames (family names) for more than sixty years? Most people in that country have no concept of their genealogy.
In the July 11, 1998 edition of this newsletter, I wrote, "After getting by on a first-name basis for more than 60 years, Mongolians this week are supposed to start using surnames again. If only they can find out what they were… many changes instituted years ago when the Communists took over the country. Among other things, the Communists confiscated the centuries-old family trees that central Asian nomads had sewn into silk or written on parchment. Families were not allowed to use surnames, and children were raised without knowing the surnames of their parents or grandparents. But now the times have changed."
In the six years since those words were written, Mongolians were told to determine their surnames from records and interviews with elderly family members. (Sound familiar?) They were then supposed to register their family names with a government office so that all Mongolians again could start using two names and thereby qualify for new national identity card. Without this card, voters are disqualified from participating in the national election.
The deadline for registering was this past week. Two and a half million Mongolians have registered, with about 19 per cent of the population claiming to be members of Genghis Khan's clan, the Borjigid. The name comes from the clan totem, and it means "wolfmaster", after the blue-grey wolf from which all clan members claim descent. The name is one of the most prestigious within the country. Of course, it does sound suspicious that, with 1,300 recognized Mongolian surnames to choose from, 19 per cent claimed this one name.
You can read more on the Independent's Web site at http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/story.jsp?story=535307