The last names of individuals in a metro area or a country can be surprising. Until today I never knew the most common last name in Canada is Li. Not Smith, as it is in the USA. Smith is number two in Canada.
The USA-Canada contrast is interesting: Looking down the top ten list of Canadian surnames, two are usually of Chinese origin (Li and Lam – #1 and #3 incidentally), three are English, three are French, and two are more ambiguous — Martin is both a French and English last name, and Lee can be English or Chinese or Korean. The USA’s top ten list are all English names — however in some individual states such as Florida and New Mexico hispanic names are frequent in the top ten list, as would be expected from the history of settlement in what is now the USA. The multi-lingual Canadian surnames arguably reflects a more multi-lingual and multi-cultural heritage in Canada. But Canada today is a very urban nation, and each major city is quite different in its heritage.
Taking a look at cities across Canada, there are some contrasts.
The top ten names in Metro Vancouver, according to the Vancouver Sun, are primarily Chinese and Asian:
Given Vancouver’s Pacific Rim location, this is not surprising. I should add, that in Metro Vancouver people of European descent still outnumber people of Chinese origin (the latter representing about 17% of the population), however there are fewer dominant European last names, perhaps reflecting origins among many non-English European countries as well as the frequency in China and Korea of certain surnames. Looking at last names is just one lens through which to view a city and it doesn’t reveal everything, we should note. Yet contrasting this list with other cities does reflect differences.
Here are Toronto’s top ten surnames, taken from a different source:
Toronto’s list is similar to Vancouver’s. Gill (which is common in India and #10 in Metro Vancouver) doesn’t appear, but Patel, another Indian name does on the Toronto list. Otherwise, the two are quite similar.
For a contrast, look at Calgary:
The only non-anglo name here, Wong, doesn’t show up until the sixth position (edit to add that the name Lee in third place likely contains people of both European and Asian decent – thanks MA for spotting this). From this list one could (correctly) conclude that Calgary’s heritage is less international and more anglo-Canadian.
For the United States I searched via Google for the common surnames in a variety of cities, but could not find similar lists. They do exist at the state level if you follow the instructions here.
What would be really interesting, would be to see the same lists 10, 20, and 50 years ago, but I couldn’t find any. Some cities have changed a lot. Indeed in the United States, a survey of the surnames of home buyers in various states changed dramatically between 2000 and 2005.
In California, New York, New Jersey, and Florida, 20 percent of home buyers last year were new to this country. The top five surnames of home buyers in 2000 were: Smith, Johnson, Brown, Williams, and Miller. Five years later, Smith, Johnson, and Williams were still in the top five, joined by Garcia and Rodriguez. In California, in 2005, the top five surnames among home buyers were all Latino….In Nebraska, the fourth most common surname of home buyers is Nguyen.
While this doesn’t tell us about cities, per se, it does show the way examining surnames can offer an intriguing snap shot of what is happening in a region, or even an activity like home buying within it.