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Is your last name first?

Scheiber isn't high on the list of most popular surnames in America, but hey, it beats Schwarzenegger. Where does your name rank?


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 14, 2001

I was on the World Wide Web the other day, trying to track down details on an obscure northern city. One click led to the next, and suddenly I was visiting the U.S. Census site.

It had absolutely nothing I was looking for. But I happened upon something that is sure to help you impress friends and become the hit at any party. At least, any party where demographics happens to come up in conversation.

The city name, Tompkins Corners, N.Y., was accompanied by basic population and geographic data. But the site also offered something else: a ranking of the name "Tompkins" among all surnames in the country. Turns out you can enter any last name and find out where it stands among all names in America.

Hmmmm. This had possibilities. I typed in my own surname in the search engine for Moments later, the results popped up:

"Scheiber is the 15,676th most popular last name in the United States."

So close to my lifelong dream of making the top 15,675.

Just out of curiosity, I typed in the surname that people call me about half the time anyway.

"Schreiber is the 2,329th most popular name."

As I feared, one "r" had cost me thousands on the popularity counter. It was comforting to know that these results are based not on the most recent census -- probably because they're still tabulating results for the new name game list -- but on the 1990 survey. So maybe Scheiber has moved up a few notches in a decade. Anyway, there was more important information to ferret out here.

I started entering surnames:

First is the 29,015th most popular, comfortably ahead of Last, which is 33,428th.

Tall is the 17,527th most popular, but a decisive loser to Short, which ranks an impressive 550th.

Nice is 10,039th most popular, blowing away Mean at 25,319th. Good to know there is some justice in the world.

I took a wild guess at No. 1 and typed in Smith. Indeed, it's the hands-down winner, followed by Johnson, Williams, Jones and Brown in the top five.

But don't be discouraged if you're not in the first 50,000 or so. You could be Arnold Schwarzenegger. His surname doesn't make the list at all. Then again, Arnold is the 224th most popular first name in the United States. But that's another project.

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