Calling James Smith! 10 Most Common First and Surname Combinations

Surnames
20 January 2015
by
Calling James Smith! 10 Most Common First and Surname Combinations
Born into slavery, this James Smith went on to become a successful business owner. [Photo credit: Flickr]

If you look up when someone says “James Smith,” you’ve got plenty of company.

That’s the most popular first and last name combination in the United States, according to a study conducted last year by a retired university professor. So as you research your family background, you might find some spouses or distant cousins with that very name.

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Here are the top 10 most common name combinations and the number of individuals with that combo, according to last year’s study:

  1. James Smith: 38,313
  2. Michael Smith: 34,810
  3. Robert Smith: 34,269
  4. Maria Garcia: 32,092
  5. David Smith: 31,294
  6. Maria Rodriguez: 30,507
  7. Mary Smith: 28,692
  8. Maria Hernandez: 27,836
  9. Maria Martinez: 26,956
  10. James Johnson: 26,850

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Lee Hartman, an associate professor emeritus of Spanish at Southern Illinois University, arrived at those combinations by pairing the most common given names with the most common surnames, according to census information. Hartman then submitted each combination to Whitepages.com’s name popularity search engine to see how often each combination was actually used.

Not surprisingly, Hartman discovered that the frequency of certain name combinations reflect America’s cultural history, in ways both obvious and subtle. The frequency of Maria Garcia and Maria Rodriguez, for example, reflect the growing presence of Hispanics in the United States.

Garcia, a Spanish surname of Basque origin, and Rodriguez, meaning “son of Rodrigo,” were the eighth- and ninth-most common surnames in the United States.

Similarly, Smith has been the most common last name in the United States since its founding, so it’s not surprising that it appears in seven of the top 13 combinations. But some commentators have noted with surprise how relatively uncommon “John Smith” is. Hartman attributed that both to the desire of parents to avoid a placeholder name (like “John Doe”) and that fact that John tends to be more popular in more predominantly Catholic countries, whereas Smith, of course, is the prototypical English, Protestant name.

Hartman hasn’t conducted his analysis for any other decades (and neither has Whitepages.com) to determine what the most popular name combinations have been in the past. But census information is available for the most popular family names and most popular given names from the early days of the Republic.

Thus, in 1850, these were the most common surnames:

  1. Smith
  2. Brown
  3. Miller
  4. Johnson
  5. Jones
  6. Davis
  7. Williams
  8. Wilson
  9. Clark
  10. Taylor

The most popular boys names in 1850 were:

  1. John
  2. William
  3. James
  4. George
  5. Henry
  6. Thomas
  7. Charles
  8. Joseph
  9. Samuel
  10. David

The most popular girls names in 1850 were:

  1. Mary
  2. Sarah
  3. Elizabeth
  4. Martha
  5. Margaret
  6. Nancy
  7. Ann
  8. Jane
  9. Eliza
  10. Catherine

Going back in time to 1790, the year of the very first United States census, here are the most common nine surnames, which represented about 4 percent of the total white population:

  1. Smith
  2. Brown
  3. Davis
  4. Jones
  5. Johnson
  6. Clark
  7. Williams
  8. Miller
  9. Wilson

English and Scottish names constituted nearly the entire population, with the exception of New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Pennsylvania contributed half of all reported surnames, a reflection of the large German population there.

The most popular given names of that time for girls consisted of:

  1. Mary
  2. Elizabeth
  3. Sarah
  4. Nancy
  5. Ann
  6. Catherine
  7. Margaret
  8. Jane
  9. Susan
  10. Hannah

And for boys, the most popular names were:

  1. John
  2. William
  3. James
  4. Thomas
  5. George
  6. Joseph
  7. Samuel
  8. Henry
  9. David
  10. Daniel

Thus, while we can be fairly confident that William Smith and Mary Brown were common combinations at the time of the first census, census historians have identified a few other name combinations that are … more unique. Those unusual names included Anguish Lemmon, Mercy Pepper, Pleasant Basket, Cutlip Hoof, Hardy Baptist, Truelove Sparks, Snow Frost, Mourning Chestnut, Boston Frog, Jedediah Brickhouse, Hannah Petticoat and Hannah Cheese, Ruth Shaves, Christy Forgot, Joseph Came, Joseph Rodeback, Agreen Crabtree, River Jordan, Booze Still, Comfort Clock, Sharp Blount, Sarah Simpers, Barbary Staggers, and Noble Gun.

—Sandie Angulo Chen

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