The nation's most frequent surname combines with the most popular first name at a rate some 24 percent below what it would be if the top first names were handed out in the same proportions in all families regardless of last name. There are 400 possible combinations of the country’s 20 most frequent first names and surnames. Without a survey of parents named Smith, we can only speculate about what factors might be responsible for the shortage of Johns in their families. When we look at the combinations of the top 20 first names with surnames of Irish, Italian, Polish, German, Scandinavian, Scottish, and Jewish origins, we get a very different picture. There are no notorious John Smiths in history who might cause parents to avoid the name, as they now avoid Adolf, for example. To begin to answer this question, we have to look at the ethnicities of the top 20 surnames. Now Joseph surges ahead with huge positive PPF values in combination with Italian surnames such as Russo (340 percent) and Esposito (339 percent), or Polish ones such as Kowalski (113 percent) and Kaminski (109 percent). The obvious implication is that Americans with those surnames are often inspired to name their sons after one of the most popular saints of that church.


And, based on the most recent available data from these sources, John heads the list of the most frequent first names. Creative baby-naming is a well-known feature of African-American culture, and it is worth investigating if this practice has had a negative impact on the number of John Smiths in the U.S.
Other combinations of common first and last names do not undergo this restriction: John Martin, James Smith, and Mary Williams are overrepresented by 13 to 20 percent. My attention was first drawn to this ethnic factor by an uncanny shortage of Josephs in combination with each of the top 20 surnames. Also positive (though more modest) figures emerge for Joseph with Irish surnames (Kelly 26 percent, Sullivan 24 percent).
But as first names increasingly change with the whims of fashion, John is facing serious competition from Michael and James for first place in the present population.
And yet, John Smith doesn’t even rank in the top 10 combinations of first and last name in the country. Of the remaining 17 names, almost all are said (by Wikipedia) to have their origins either wholly or partly in England.


These positive numbers help to explain Joseph’s overall popularity in spite of its poor showing with English surnames.
And to judge from the names given to newborn boys in the 21st century, the popularity of the name John will soon be a thing of the past.
More importantly, Smith and these other common surnames show positive PPF values with other common first names (James and Charles, for example), so there’s evidently no general deficit of conventional first names in combination with surnames that are frequent among African-Americans.
So it’s reasonable to conclude that no significant amount of the John Smith shortage can be ascribed to the use of unconventional first names by African-Americans.



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