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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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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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