Friday, December 2, 2016

Most Common (Popular) Surnames in the United States include Smith & Johnson, not necessarily Jones, but the name Garcia is on the rise

Joseph Smith, founder of
the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints
John Smith, explorer,
soldier of fortune &
leader of colonial Virginia
Smith and Johnson top the list of most common (or, as some would have it, popular) names in most of the United States, although, in some states like Minnesota, Johnson is the top name while, in most other states, Smith is most popular. Many of the northern and central states were settled by Germans and Scandinavians. That is why names like Anderson and Olson crop up there as very popular names, and the frequency of the name Smith could be due to the German name Schmidt being Anglicized into Smith. More often, perhaps, the name Smith just represents multiple waves of immigrants from the British Isles.


In North Dakota, Johnson comes in first while Anderson comes in second and Olson comes in third. Is it possible that if you sign yourself as Smith in a North Dakota motel, the clerk will be less suspicious than his counterpart would be in nearby Montana, where Smith is the most popular name? What is the difference, BTW, between “most common” and “most popular”? As I see it, if your name happens to be Smith, then it is popular; but if the guy who is not within earshot is named Smith, then between you and me, we’ll call it common. By this reckoning, Smith is the most common name in 39 states. Or maybe forty. I lost count. So it must be the most common name in the United States. I mean, without doing the math, it has to be. And yet, how many people have you actually met named Smith? I cannot think of very many, although, that might just be because I haven’t noticed most of them. If your name is Smith, I had to like you or hate you for you to make an impression on me; so only my favorite person named Smith and my least favorite person named Smith leap to mind. 

But back to the survey. Wherever Smith is not the top name, it is usually the second most common (five states) or third (South Dakota being the one and only state where this is the case). I know that everyone always thinks of Jones as being almost as popular as Smith, but it makes the top three in only four of the United States. 
Andrew Johnson, 17th U.S. President
(The 36th President was Lyndon B. Johnson)



Johnson, on the other hand, is in the top three in 41 states. Other “popular” names include Williams, which is among the top three names in 17 states. (Right or wrong, I believe I once heard that Williams is the twentieth most popular name in the English-speaking world.) 

Tennessee Williams, playwright
Hank Williams, musician & songwriter



Loni Anderson, actress
John L. Sullivan, boxer
Next come Brown (eight states), Anderson (seven states), Miller (seven), and Sullivan (one state—Massachusetts.) Having lived in Massachusetts, I can attest to the popularity of Sullivan, the name of my favorite high school teacher as well numerous other people that I knew there.

As you might expect, if you have been hearing about the increase in the immigrant and native Hispanic populations in the United States, there are other names besides the British or northern European ones that are becoming very common. Hispanic names have become especially common in the southwestern states. You might be surprised to learn that, in some states, Hispanic names have already displaced Northern European ones on the three most popular list. In fact, there are two states where all three top names are Hispanic: California and New Mexico. In California, the most common names are Garcia, Hernandez and Lopez. Garcia is also the most popular name in Texas where it tops Smith, and Garcia places or shows in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. Also, Martinez is very popular in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.

Surprise! Asian names are popular in Hawaii, although the name Lee is a European name as well as an East Asian one, which could be why it holds the top spot in the Islands and is more popular than Wong and Kim.

Manuel Antonio Chaves, officer of the 2nd
 New Mexico Volunteers during the Civil War
I have mentioned all but two of the most popular names that come up in this state-by-state survey. Nelson is the third most popular in Minnesota and Chavez (variant spelling: Chaves) is third in New Mexico. 

Here is the list of all the top names on a state-by-state basis: Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown, Anderson, Miller, Garcia, Jones, Martinez, Chavez, Hernandez, Lee, Lopez, Nelson, Olson, Sullivan, Wong, and Kim.

Of course, it would be statistically invalid to assume that the last nine names on this list are very common across the country, because they are each only among the three most common names in a single state, and Martinez is among the three most common in only three states. Since Hispanic names are still not among the top three in most states—although that could change soon enough—at least some of the Hispanic names will fall from the upper rungs of the list when national averages are calculated.

A note about the people pictured: They all represent states where each of their names is currently among the top three. John Smith was born in Lincolnshire and died in London, but he is famous for helping to settle Virginia, where Smith remains the most popular name; Joseph Smith was born in Vermont and grew up in New York, in both of which states Smith is the most popular name, as it is in other states where he lived, including Ohio and Illinois, as well as in Utah, the state where the religion he founded has become ensconced. Andrew Johnson was born in North Carolina where his name comes in third and died in Tennessee where it is second. Tennessee Williams was born in Mississippi and Hank Williams was born in Alabama, and in both states Williams is the second most popular name. Similarly, Loni Anderson was born in Minnesota (second most popular) and John L. Sullivan was born in Massachusetts (third most popular). Manuel Chaves was born in New Mexico and died there, although he was born a citizen of Mexico and died a citizen of the United States. As noted above, Chavez is the third most popular name in his state.

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