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Blog: What’s Your Name Again?

5 May 2017

Is it possible that eventually everyone in the world will share the same surname?

According to the Daily Mail, over the past 100 years 200,000 surnames have gone extinct in England and Wales alone. Which begs the question, will we all end up as a Smith? Amongst the 200,000 surnames are gems like Chips (which is not quite as great as Pizza – it’s a real surname honest). There’s bad news if you’re a Clegg, Sutcliffe or Kershaw as your family name could have completely disappeared in the next few generations. You can find out how common your surname is, the origin behind it and its distribution around the world on this handy website: http://forebears.io/

Maths tells us (stay with me) that the trend is asymptotic. This simply means that initially the decrease in the variety of surnames will be rapid but then will slow down as it gets closer and closer to one remaining surname, but never quite reaching it. However real life doesn’t always like to abide by the laws of maths, so in actuality there is still a chance that one day we could all have the same surname. But this is still very, very unlikely as it is dependent upon a lot of factors. Human kind would have to enforce a global law which would make inventing new surnames illegal, encourage mass immigration, oh and avoid extinction for the next few millennia (sounds like a piece of cake).

This video has a great explanation of more of the theory behind this question if you’re curious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5p-Jdjo7sSQ

However what this video doesn’t consider are the cultures which would challenge this theory. For example in Pakistani culture, the use of a family name is not as prominent as in Western society. What usually happens is that the wife and children will adopt the first name or sometimes the nickname of the husband/father as their surname.

In Spain, most people will have two legal surnames. Traditionally the first surname belonging to the father and the second is the mother’s maiden name, but nowadays the order is unimportant. Alternatively a couple may choose to combine their names (kind of like Brangelina), this tends to happen when their surnames are common to give their child a more distinctive name. But this is only scratching the surface with the Spanish naming system, there are compound first names, mixed first names, nicknames and more.

Fun fact, the longest recorded Spanish name is Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios *breathes* Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso (whew I pity the teacher that had to read that one out on the register, it even puts Esteban Julio Ricardo Montoya de la Rosa Ramírez to shame).

If learning about where we’ve been as a species and envisioning where we’re going intrigues you, perhaps our Education courses are ideal for you.


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