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7 Fun Facts About American Names

Most Americans are given a first and last name when they're born, but aggregate data on full names is not widely distributed by any federal government agency. Instead, data on first and last names is compiled and released separately by two different agencies. The Social Security Administration (SSA) releases an annual list of first names given to babies born in the United States, while the Census bureau provides a list of last names of individuals living in the U.S. once every decade or so.

But there are some sources of information on full names. One is the Social Security Death Master File (DMF). The DMF is widely used as a death verification tool, though a fraction of a percent of the individuals are added erroneously while still alive (and not all deaths are recorded). The most recent publicly available full version is from 2013 and contains over 87 million entries. Eighty percent of the entries were born 1930 or earlier, so the group skews older. While the DMF doesn’t provide an exhaustive list, there are still a lot of very unusual full names among them. Here are seven fun facts about American names from the DMF.

1. NUMBER OF PEOPLE WITH AN IDENTICAL FIRST AND LAST NAME: 4746

There were 1560 different first and last name combinations. Thomas Thomas is by far the most frequently occurring, followed by James James. Alexander Alexander and Santiago Santiago make a good showing. The most frequently occurring female name is Rose Rose at number three. The rest of the top names are predominantly male. Of the top 25, only four are names that are overwhelmingly female: Rose Rose, Ruth Ruth, Grace Grace, and Rosa Rosa.

2. NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHOSE LAST NAME STARTS WITH THEIR FIRST NAME: 45,379

Excluding people with identical first and last names, there are 4344 different names where the last name starts with the first name. More than a quarter of the total occurrences are for John Johnson, followed by William Williams. Similar to Johnson and Williams, almost all the last names are patronymic. Their original meaning was to denote someone is “son of [insert father’s name].” The top 25 include patronymic last names that are English (ending in son, like Robert Robertson), Welsh (often ending in s, like Edward Edwards), Danish (ending in sen, like Jens Jensen), and Spanish (ending in ez, like Martin Martinez). Given that by definition, a patronym includes the name of the male parent, it’s unsurprising that boys’ first names dominate the top of the list. The top female name is Eva Evans at number 19, with only two more in the top 25, neither of which are patronymic (Rose Rosen and Rose Rosenberg).

3. NUMBER OF PEOPLE WITH A LAST NAME THAT ENDS WITH THEIR FIRST NAME: 5840

Patronymic last names are not always signified by their endings. In some cases, it’s the beginning of the last name that gives it away. Such is the case with Gaelic (last names starting with Mc or Mac or O’ in Ireland for "grandson of") and Norman (start with Fitz). From a total of 2201 different first and last names where the last name ends with the first, the top four names are all patronymic. They are, in order: Donald MacDonald, Donald McDonald, Gerald Fitzgerald, and Patrick Fitzpatrick. However, the top names are not dominated by patronymic last names, including the top female name: Anna Hanna. There are many examples of this type of accidental overlap, including Avis Davis, Edith Meredith, and Milton Hamilton. It should be noted that it is possible for a last name to both end and start with a first name. And so, Rosa Rosa-Rosa is included on both lists.

4. NUMBER OF PEOPLE WITH NAMES THAT RHYME: 62,935

Using a pronouncing dictionary, I scanned the DMF for cases where the last name rhymed with the first name. The dictionary file didn’t contain every possible name, so there may be others among the 87 million; however, the more common names do appear to be included. I uncovered 16,308 different rhyming first and last names, including Florence Lawrence, Doris Morris, and Nellie Kelley. Names like this, which might be considered more melodic, seem to be more prevalent among females. Four of the top five names are female (all with first name Mary), including the most common: Mary Perry. The most common male name is John Hogan at number 2. If you’re not sold that this is a bona fide rhyme, Paul Hall and John Hahn follow at 6 and 7, respectively. There were also 158 Ronald McDonalds on the list, though in 2014 Taco Bell managed to find a couple dozen more who are still alive.

5. NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO HAD LAST NAMES 16 CHARACTERS OR LONGER: 46

The DMF has some very rare last names that due to minimum threshold requirements don’t make it into the aggregate U.S. Census data. This includes 43 different last names that are 16 characters or longer (last names in most recent U.S. Census data max out at 15 characters). As a native of Greece, a country notorious for long last names, I had a hunch it would be a contest between Greek and Armenian last names. I was partially right in that Aghubgharehptiannej is most likely Armenian. Everybodytalksabout is Native American and Fernandezdelaportil is Spanish in origin. I excluded names with hyphens or spaces from my search, however it does appear that all three of these may have been altered to merge previously distinct segments.

The next three longest are Persian (Amirsahansouzshani), Georgian (Dzhindzhikhashvili), and Laotian (Nanthovongdouangsy). The longest Greek name in the DMF was 17 characters (Papadimitropoulos).

6. NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO HAD ODD FIRST/LAST NAME COMBINATIONS: 272

Most of the people on the DMF were born before 1930, so names like Donald Duck (six occurrences), Homer Simpson (69 occurrences) or Joseph Stalin (one occurrence) may not have the same cultural significance for the parents who thought of these names. However, I located 20 names that would have raised eyebrows even a century ago. Finding peculiar last names is not something that can be accomplished via a simple algorithm, so I scanned the database for instances of remarkable names mentioned by Russell Ash, as well as a few of my own. The most popular is Mary Land (139 occurrences), but there's also Hazel Nutt, Robin Banks, Scott Free, and Pearly Gates.

7. NUMBER OF PEOPLE WITH UNFORTUNATE FIRST INITIALS WITH LAST NAMES: 1307

Also from Russell Ash’s list, I scanned the DMF for occurrences of 16 different unfortunate first initials and last names. At the top of the rankings are 721 B. Wares and 375 B. Quicks. O. Heck, C. Below, and T. Hee all had more than 10 occurrences.

Damian Mac Con Uladh contributed research for this article. Further information and more extensive lists of results can be found in this post at SimonKnowz.com. Social Security Death Master File courtesy of SSDMF.info.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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