Common Valour - What is in a Name?

Peter B. GiblettStarred Page By Peter B. Giblett, 5th Jun 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/25mtu6sx/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Culture

Someone asked the question "Smith is the most common surname in the English speaking world, but has there ever been someone called Smith as US President?" To my knowledge at the time I had to answer that I did not think there had been and neither to my knowledge had there been a British Prime Minister, which led me to start some research...

Fascinated by Names

I must admit a long time had a fascination for names, particularly unusual place names and surnames, such as Bonneville, Cavendish, Disraeli, Fillmore, Franklin, Grenville, Livingstone, Ogden, Perceval, Rummage, Walpole, Woodbead. In fact when I was younger these were some of the names that I would have preferred as a surname.

Having an unusual one myself, Giblett, which is more popular in Australia than in England where it originated, I guess I would have to be even more fascinated by the rarer of surnames. Ours can be traced back to the 12th century and was the name of the right-hand man of Thomas à Becket, shortly before he was murdered in 1170, not that we know whether this individual was an ancestor.

Common Surnames, Little Uncommon Valour

Well it seems that in the USA, the five most common names are:

  • Smith
  • Johnson
  • Williams
  • Brown
  • Jones

All of these names hail from Britain, it was somewhat a surprise not to find a non-British name in that list, like Rodriguez, given the vast number of lands that supplied migrants to America over the years. For those of you who may say that Johnson has Nordic origins, you would of course be right and many Johnson's have such an origin, but the name is frequently spelled differently in those lands.

Yet when it comes to leaders in various fields there are few having the most popular names, for example if you look at the US Presidents, of the 44 so far, only two (Andrew Johnson and Lyndon B. Johnson) have common surnames.

Moving north to Canada the most common names are:

  • Li
  • Smith
  • Lam
  • Martin
  • Brown

Two of these names (Li and Lam) are Chinese in origin and the large number may relate to migration from Hong Kong and China in the 1990s. Again looking at Canada's 22 Prime Ministers only Paul Martin has a common name.

But not stopping there I had to leap across the Atlantic, to my homeland and the origins of the English language, to the UK where the most popular surnames are:

  • Smith
  • Brown
  • Johnson
  • Jones
  • Williams

To my surprise that list is identical to the US list (other than the order the names fall in).

There have been 75 Prime Ministers since the year 1721, there were heads of government before that (going back to Cromwell at least) but no information is available on the internet so research stops at 1721. Yet in all that time, only one has a common name, Gordon Brown, although there was one Prime Minister with a double-barrelled name, Edward Smith-Stanley.

Of course the political leaders are only one segment of those that stand out in our society, but famous authors, actors, business leaders etc are harder to research, but to my knowledge fewer have common surnames.

Passing on a Name

Having only one child, my son has mixed origins and of course a unique name, being called Karim Giblett - a name I can be sure is unique in this world. But our family did not stop there, my brother's only daughter is called Éana Buí Cotter-Giblett with her name being of Irish in origin, again a name that is unique in this world.

Mine being one of the most uncommon surnames I have relatives with the most common, Smith, but through that line our ancestry can be traced back to a Daniel de Monché who married Marie de la Tremblade in Leicester Fields Chapel on June the 3rd 1694, both of these families being Huguenot migrants fleeing persecution in Europe since the 1570s they lived in Spitalfields which was at that time a leafy suburb of London.

My wife, whose parentage is from both Kenya and India, has one of the most common surnames in the world, Khan. What a fascinating world of names we live in, yet no matter how common or rare a name we have we cannot rely on our name to make our mark in this world.

World of Names

Whatever your name my hat's off to you.

It has to be said that the world of names is a fascinating one. The first town I lived in in Canada is called Beamsville, named after one of the early inhabitants, whose family name was Beam (no relation to the American Whisky maker as far as I can tell) and if you look at town and village names in the USA and Canada you will find a fascinating array of names, many relating to surnames - for example Smithville, a town found close to Beamsville, also Florence, Mason, Clarksville, and even Santa Claus, which can easily be found using Google maps and zooming in on any part of these two countries. It could be said that some people's ancestors passed on more than a family name, more a regional heritage.

Other town names in North America include Paris, Delhi, Lebanon which are named after other places around the world, wacky ones like Boring in Oregon, Why in Arizona, Loafers Glory in North Carolina. The most common place names in the US include Springfield, Bristol, Greenville, Clinton, Madison, Franklin, and Washington.

Out of interest the most common place names in the UK include: Newton (or New Town), Blackhill, Castle Hill, Mount Pleasant, Woodside, Burnside, Greenhill, Wood End, and Beacon Hill (from the time when hills across Southern England had beacons on them, which were lit to warn of the approach of the Spanish Armada).

Pictures and Images

  • Whats in a name by americanbecu.com
  • American Canadian British flags merged
  • Surnames Word Cloud by Peter Giblett.
  • Hats off by giantbomb.com

Other Writing

Other recent publications by Peter Giblett include:

Wikinut is great a place to share some of your own personal wisdom by adding a comment or becoming a writer, join Wikinut and write.

Tags

Common Names, Fascination For Names, Giblett, Name, Smith, Surname, Uncommon Valour, Unusual Place Names, Unusual Surnames

Meet the author

author avatar Peter B. Giblett
Author of "Is your Business Ready? For the Social Media Revolution"

Social media consultant, with C-Level background.

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Comments

author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
5th Jun 2015 (#)

Peter, I loved this article. It was actually fun to read. We have all different names in our family. My father's family was from Czechoslovakia (I had to look up the spelling just now) and a lot of my mother's family is from England and Holland. Thanks for sharing such an enlightening article.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
5th Jun 2015 (#)

Nancy, adding the non-English names into the mix makes it even more interesting.

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author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
5th Jun 2015 (#)

Peter, again I must say I really loved reading this article. You are so right about the non-English names. It becomes very interesting at that point.

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author avatar Retired
5th Jun 2015 (#)

Thank you Peter for sharing...this has prompted me to knowing the origins of the surnames in my family.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
5th Jun 2015 (#)

Good luck with that.

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author avatar Retired
5th Jun 2015 (#)

This is very interesting. I have to confess that the name Edward Smith-Stanley was a surprise to me, until I realised that this was the family name of the Earl of Derby, who was British Prime Minister for three short periods in the 19th century.

We might well have had a Smith Prime Minister if the Labour leader John Smith had not died in office and been succeeded by Tony Blair.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
6th Jun 2015 (#)

John, I gave names not aristocratic titles, but you are perfectly correct. You are assuming John Smith would have won - a different Labour Leader may have given that election a different flavour - who is to know.

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author avatar Helen Thomas
6th Jun 2015 (#)

I really enjoyed reading this article about Names ~ Peter. Thanks for sharing.

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author avatar Retired
6th Jun 2015 (#)

Thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Lovely article, I must say.

Thank you so much for the share, Peter.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
7th Jun 2015 (#)

Helen & Joyesh thank you for reading.

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author avatar Ptrikha
8th Jun 2015 (#)

Interesting and if someone were to research on surnames, mostly based on Village and caste background, he or she could come up with a book of epic proportions.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
8th Jun 2015 (#)

I am sure there are already stories of this nature.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
8th Jun 2015 (#)

Thought provoking Peter. I heard Patel and Singh are up there to challenge others as top in the list of surnames In UK. Maybe Khan too!

In South India we do not have surnames normally, and Gods names are generally given and Hindus have one too many! I have three in my own name - so nothing much to worry here or hereafter! siva

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
8th Jun 2015 (#)

Siva, I would have thought those names to have crept into the list as well, some are top 20 but not top 5.

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