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I am writing a research paper in which I mention Moroccan explorer Estaban quite often. In the books I have, his name is spelled in different ways; the Wikipedia article linked above lists even more variants, though I never saw a single scholarly source use the name "Mustafa Azemmouri". The problem I get when researching is, every scholar uses different spelling/variations on the name, so I have to search the 5 or 6 different spellings for articles and books to come up in my searches in ProQuest. How do I pick which name/spelling/variation to use?

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  • Pick the one that appears to be most common these days.
    – Sverre
    Jan 5 at 18:07
  • What does it mean for a figure to be named "Estaban"? Jan 5 at 19:33
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    Ohhh it's a person. I thought you had a graph named Estaban, lol Jan 5 at 19:47
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You cannot make the different spelling variants disappear. So if there is no "official" spelling, all you can do is to pick one of the variants and use it consistently throughout your work. You might choose the most abundant version, or a version used by the person in question, or the most modern version, or the version used in your group...

If this is a critical aspect in your work, you could also include a short discussion of the different spellings of the name and why you picked a specific version. This way, you can also add some context, so the person can be identified more accurately.

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Actually, I'm surprised that you would use his slave name rather than his known actual name. I would recommend his real name, Mustafa Azemmouri, for use in you paper with a footnote (or similar) pointing out the other names he was known by. That will make searches possible. A footnote would also make it clear who is being referred to when you quote older sources that use the slave name.

I would treat the history of the (mis)use of his name as being a racist artifact that should be dropped in modern usage. Honor the man. Use his real name.

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    In principle I agree with your approach, but in practice there are many exceptions which can only be treated by an expert on the man and his work. Functionally, it may be necessary to use the slave name if that's the subject, e.g. slave names. Morally, it may be that Estaban was pride of his slave name for various good reasons that only an expert could know. So, I would add a disclaimer to your answer that in very specific cases, it may be appropriate to use the slave name.
    – Andrei
    Jan 5 at 20:05
  • @Andrei. "it may be that Estaban was pride of his slave name". Note that a slave has no agency to dispute what his master demands. This is the 21st century. Honor the man. Use his real name. It would be different if he had gained his freedom and chose to keep the name.
    – Buffy
    Jan 5 at 20:54
  • It is false that a slave has no agency. If the person in question would have not had any agency, then all his achievements should be attributed to his master, which would be awfully wrong. Also, you are claiming that "it would be different if [...]", which entirely validates my point that there are circumstances where using the slave name may be appropriate.
    – Andrei
    Jan 7 at 17:07

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