November 17, 2007
In Name Count, Garcias Are Catching Up to Joneses
By SAM ROBERTS
Step aside Moore and Taylor. Welcome Garcia and Rodriguez.
Smith remains the most common surname in the United States, according to a new analysis released yesterday by the Census Bureau. But for the first time, two Hispanic surnames — Garcia and Rodriguez — are among the top 10 most common in the nation, and Martinez nearly edged out Wilson for 10th place.
The number of Hispanics living in the United States grew by 58 percent in the 1990s to nearly 13 percent of the total population, and cracking the list of top 10 names suggests just how pervasively the Latino migration has permeated everyday American culture.
Garcia moved to No. 8 in 2000, up from No. 18, and Rodriguez jumped to No. 9 from 22nd place. The number of Hispanic surnames among the top 25 doubled, to 6.
Compiling the rankings is a cumbersome task, in part because of confidentiality and accuracy issues, according to the Census Bureau, and it is only the second time it has prepared such a list. While the historical record is sketchy, several demographers said it was probably the first time that any non-Anglo name was among the 10 most common in the nation. “It’s difficult to say, but it’s probably likely,” said Robert A. Kominski, assistant chief of social characteristics for the census.
Luis Padilla, 48, a banker who has lived in Miami since he arrived from Colombia 14 years ago, greeted the ascendance of Hispanic surnames enthusiastically.
“It shows we’re getting stronger,” Mr. Padilla said. “If there’s that many of us to outnumber the Anglo names, it’s a great thing.”
Reinaldo M. Valdes, a board member of the Miami-based Spanish American League Against Discrimination, said the milestone “gives the Hispanic community a standing within the social structure of the country.”
“People of Hispanic descent who hardly speak Spanish are more eager to take their Hispanic last names,” he said. “Today, kids identify more with their roots than they did before.”
Demographers pointed to more than one factor in explaining the increase in Hispanic surnames.
Generations ago, immigration officials sometimes arbitrarily Anglicized or simplified names when foreigners arrived from Europe.
“The movie studios used to demand that their employees have standard Waspy names,” said Justin Kaplan, an historian and co-author of “The Language of Names.”
“Now, look at Renée Zellweger,” Mr. Kaplan said.
And because recent Hispanic and Asian immigrants might consider themselves more identifiable by their physical characteristics than Europeans do, they are less likely to change their surnames, though they often choose Anglicized first names for their children.
The latest surname count also signaled the growing number of Asians in America. The surname Lee ranked No. 22, with the number of Lees about equally divided between whites and Asians. Lee is a familiar name in China and Korea and in all its variations is described as the most common surname in the world.
Altogether, the census found six million surnames in the United States. Among those, 151,000 were shared by a hundred or more Americans. Four million were held by only one person.
“The names tell us that we’re a richly diverse culture,” Mr. Kominski said.
But the fact that about 1 in every 25 Americans is named Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown, Jones, Miller or Davis “suggests that there’s a durability in the family of man,” Mr. Kaplan, the author, said. A million Americans share each of those seven names. An additional 268 last names are common to 10,000 or more people. Together, those 275 names account for one in four Americans.
As the population of the United States ballooned by more than 30 million in the 1990s, more Murphys and Cohens were counted when the decade ended than when it began.
Smith — which would be even more common if all its variations, like Schmidt and Schmitt, were tallied — is among the names derived from occupations (Miller, which ranks No. 7, is another). Among the most famous early bearers of the name was Capt. John Smith, who helped establish the first permanent English settlement in North America at Jamestown, Va., 400 years ago. As recently as 1950, more Americans were employed as blacksmiths than as psychotherapists.
In 1984, according to the Social Security Administration, nearly 3.4 million Smiths lived in the United States. In 1990, the census counted 2.5 million. By 2000, the Smith population had declined to fewer than 2.4 million. The durability of some of the most common names in American history may also have been perpetuated because slaves either adopted or retained the surnames of their owners. About one in five Smiths are black, as are about one in three Johnsons, Browns, and Joneses and nearly half the people named Williams.
The Census Bureau’s analysis found that some surnames were especially associated with race and ethnicity.
More than 96 percent of Yoders, Kruegers, Muellers, Kochs, Schwartzes, Schmitts and Novaks were white. Nearly 90 percent of the Washingtons were black, as were 75 percent of the Jeffersons, 66 percent of the Bookers, 54 percent of the Banks and 53 percent of the Mosleys.
Terry Aguayo contributed reporting from Miami.