What’s in a Name…

As Shakespeare so eloquently wrote:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet…


Were you aware that there is statistical information even about your surname or first name that you can use to have some fun or interesting discussions?  (And, yes, you also can use freely available statistics to help you make even the important decisions in your life or business!)  But on the lighter side for example, in 1995, the U.S. Census Bureau published a list of surnames occurring 100 times or more from the 1990 Decennial Census. The 1990 List contained 88,799 names that matched the above criteria. When the Census Bureau published the list following the 2000 Census, the list had increased to 151,671 names.  The bad news, due to budget constraints, the Census Bureau did not have resources to publish a similar list of surnames from the 2010 Census.

Below, from the American Last Names page are the Top 10 Most Popular Surnames from both Censuses mentioned above:

10 most popular surnames in the USA:

Most Common Last Names

  • Although Smith remains the most common surname in America in 2000, six Hispanic names ranked in the top 25 most common surnames in the nation.
    • In addition, from the latest 2010 Census statistics, I found that the number of Hispanics living in the U.S. increased 43% from 2000 to 2010.
  • The surname Lee also made the top 25—ranking number 22 in the country in 2000—indicating a continuing rise in the Asian American population.
Biggest Gainers and Losers:

Growing diversity in the U.S. population is reflected in the two lists, with traditionally Caucasian surnames decreasing, and Latino and Asian names increasing. Among the top 100 surnames in America, these are the names with the biggest advances and declines from 1990 to 2000.

BIGGEST GAINERS, 1990 — 2000

1990 RANK
2000 RANK
+ 172
+ 106
+ 60
+ 53
+ 46
+ 36
+ 34
+ 28
+ 26
+ 26

BIGGEST LOSERS, 1990 — 2000

1990 RANK
2000 RANK
1. BARNES 79 99 – 20
2. SANDERS 75 88 – 13
3. PERRY 84 97 – 13
4. JENKINS 83 95 – 12
5. RICHARDSON 63 74 – 11
6. REED 55 65 – 10
7. GRAY 69 79 – 10
8. HARRIS 15 24 – 9
9. BELL 58 67 – 9
10. JAMES 71 80 – 9
11. ROSS 80 89 – 9

But, what about your surname?

If you didn’t see your surname in the lists above, you can find out if it made the lists of ranked surnames just by entering it into a searchable database of more than 150,000 last names.  Enter your last name in the Popularity Index database, and see its rank among the most common names in the United States according to 1990 and 2000 U.S. Census data — the two years for which these data were available when the original article and application were made available by the Social Security Administration.  For example, one of my family’s branch’s last name is Taylor.

Here’s what the app told me:
  • <Taylor was ranked #10
  • In 2000, Taylor was ranked #13.
  • The name Taylor has been searched 1651 times out of 2,285,965 total searches on the Popularity Index.

According to the 2000 data, although the entire list of 151,671 surnames covers about 90 percent of the population, it accounts for only about 3 percent of surnames in the United States!

The 2000 census found over 6 million surnames total, the vast majority (about 65%) held by just one person. So please don’t be discouraged if your surname was not on the list. Ninety-seven percent of all surnames in the United States didn’t make the list.

On the other hand, if you want to see the popularity of first names, try the Social Security office’s http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/

I understand most parents put a lot of thought into choosing first names for their children. Some believe their baby’s name could impact his or her future success.  High-end recruiter The Ladders analyzed data around first names from its nearly 6 million members against variables such as industry, salary level, and location to prove a null hypothesis that what your mother names you makes a difference:

Top five baby names, by gender, in ratio to their overall frequency:

Top five highest-paid names:

Both lists were normalized for frequency (not just absolute counts) giving a ratio of [C-level first names]/[all first names]. Here are a few quick takeaways:

  • Christine was the only name that showed up on both the top five C-level and highest paid lists
  • The top 10, highest-paid, C-level executive names earn, on average, 10% more than other names
  • The top 25 most-popular names make about $7,000 more, on average, than the rest of the list
  • Females make, on average, 22% less than their male counterparts in all comparisons

Their overarching theory, based on their 6 million members

The shorter the name, the better! People who went by three-letter monikers (like BobTom, and Rob) made the most money—and every additional letter in your name cost you $3,600 in annual salary. And that held true for both men and women—as most of the top-earning names in the ladies’ category were short and sweet like LynnDana, and Cathy.  One notable exception for the ladies was Christine, which ranked as the top C-level executive name for women and was also on the top 5 high earners’names.
In 1913, “Thomas” was the 10th most popular name, “Richard” was 19th, and “Harry” was 13th. And, most of us can easily remember notables from history who were given these names. In 2012, however, these names ranked 63rd, 124th, and 718th, respectively.

The most popular names in 2012 (taken from the Social Security Administration’s website):

Top 10 Baby Names For 2012

Baby Names

Rank Male name Female name
1 Jacob Sophia
2 Mason Emma
3 Ethan Isabella
4 Noah Olivia
5 William Ava
6 Liam Emily
7 Jayden Abigail
8 Michael Mia
9 Alexander Madison
10 Aiden Elizabeth

Note that the top 5 male names totaled only 4 percent of all males.  Similarly, the top 5 female names total only 5 percent of all females.

In contrast, the table 100 Years of Top Names shows the five most frequent given names for male and female babies born in each year 1913-2012.  And, over the last 100 years, the male name Michael has held the top spot most often (44 times), while the female name Mary has been ranked number one 43 times over those years.

I don’t know about you, but, whatever the popularity or rankings of our given and surnames, I’ve had mine too long and am too connected to my ancestral lineage to want to change them now.  I will say, though, that in my personal genealogical research of my tree and its branches proved my given name, Joanne, is unique with the exception of a 15th great-grand-aunt born in 1439, who was the daughter of my 16th great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Carew of Devonshire, England.

My Surname ReportAnd, here’s my final table from my genealogical research.  It shows the top 20 surnames of the 18 pages of ranked surnames in my family tree.

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