Monday, November 19, 2007

The Garcias are Here; Can the Nguyens Be Far Behind?

The Census Bureau has released the most common surnames from the 2000 Census. This brought a wave of stories about the appearance of Hispanic surnames -- Garcia and Rodriguez -- in the top ten for the first time.

I think the Americanization of Spanish names is a great thing -- proof of the great assimilative power of America. And I know that the WASP names that make up the rest of the top ten include the most wonderful mix of ethnic backgrounds. The list would already appear much more diverse if it had not been common for immigrants to Anglicize their names a century ago. My ancestors Sherstinki, for example, chose to become Sherry at Ellis Island. Immigrants these days are less likely to change their family names.

The Hispanic names are only likely to rise on the common name list, given the massive and continuing immigration from Spanish speaking lands. Just outside the top ten are Martinez (12), Hernandez (16), Lopez (22), and Gonzalez (24).

I wondered where the Asian names are on the list. This is trickier, since transliteration means that some Asian names are written in the English way, obscuring which heritage is represented. This is most important on this list for Lee (23), which is both a common English name (Robert E. Lee) and a very common Chinese name, often written Li; in fact, with all its variants, Li/Lee is the most common surname in the world.

The first clearly Asian name on the list is the leading Vietnamese surname, Nguyen (58). The next is the dominant Korean name Kim (110). The Indian Patel (158) and the Vietnamese Tran (189)round out the top 200. Whether these names will ever reach the top ten American surnames depends on the vagaries on immigration. We probably will not have another wave of Vietnamese boat people; we probably will have a steady stream of Indian and Chinese students and high tech workers.

I think the diversification of American surnames is all to the good. Go Melting Pot! E Pluribus Unum!


Jon said...

This is pretty interesting. I saw Choi, Chung, and Chen, but farther down. Part of the challenge with Chinese names at least, is romanization (for instance, Zhou, Chou, and Chow are different versions of the same name).

Gruntled said...

Yes -- I read that the Vietnamese Tran is also the Chinese Chan.