Fascinating discussion. I just read the other day that Italy supposedly has the largest number of surnames of any country in the world: 350,000. Certain Italian surnames have come down through history not as reflections of an occupation or trade, but as denotations of orphan status--Orfanelli, Trovato, Innocenti, and so on. "Innocenti" derived from Florence's Ospedale degli Innocenti, a foundling hospital designed by Brunelleschi.
More thoughts--perhaps I slightly misunderstood your point U. To clarify, I assume that all of the names that rose from professions were male-based--after all English surnames are patronymic, aren't they? (In the case of sewer for the woman who did the sewing is a happy omission!) The legacy of the name and the legacy of the genes should not be confused. To the extent that the Y chromosome is attached to the patronymic, the issue is a little cloudier.
In addition to names of professions, English surnames reflected regions, personal traits, etc.
I doubt the "compound interest" effect would favor male clans over female, but it would increase the sheer number of smiths in the population.
Perhaps checking data records would give one an idea of the total number of male versus female smiths in the US.
An interesting book that this reminds me of is Adam's Curse by Bryan Sykes. He also wrote The Seven Daughters of Eve. The relationship is tangential, but the book illuminates several of the things that have been suggested here.
Good counterpoint. I would imagine that because of the initial use of the name as an identifier for a common profession, some of them were male-biased, some female-biased, and some neutral. But over time, as the "compound interest" effect kicked in, the male clans began to become dominant within the name. Right? Here I go with my rampant speculation again. It would be interesting to see if anyone's done legitimate research on the subject. :-)
I'll have to check out that book, it sounds interesting! Yeah, I'm being totally unscientific -- it's not worth defending my claim as if it were legitimately debatable. Just the same, you'll never convince me otherwise. ;-)
Re: Li, I read somewhere that there are only about 100 (!!!) surnames to cover the billions of Chinese souls in existence at present. A real problem for them. There are something like 100,000 English surnames, if I remember correctly. Anybody got more definitive data?
U, I thought the salient point of the article was that smith was an early name (owing to its usefulness). It sounds like compound interest--the earlier one starts, the huger the outcome. Exponential--that's the word I was looking for.
And don't overlook the fact that smiths are historically and currently useful!
And yes, this whole thread is a crackup, r. I love it too.
And Jennarenn, I liked your observation about the prevelance of Li.
As for having only boys, u, remember that if you should accidentally father a girl, she will probably have a mother who will help with the girly things!
Um. I don't mean to paint myself as an "expert." I could be wrong. ;-)
Like I said, there are a couple reasons why Smith is so common. The article mentions that it was a necessary profession, which makes a lot of sense.
Every unrelated Smith I've known has come from a predominantly male family. I mentioned a couple generations of my particular branch, but as you continue to explore the family tree you'll see more and more sons. Not everyone with the name will carry that trait, of course, but enough seem to that I'd surmise it's a pretty common thing among Smiths. I fully expect to have sons but no daughters, personally.
It's merely an unscientific inference when I suggest those genes are why the Smith name is so widespread, but it makes sense to me.
slumry, you expressed exactly what I meant to. A training bra is for girls who don't quite need to wear a bra yet. It just *looks* like a sports bra.
u, I'm sure you're the resident expert on the Smith clan, but I've never heard of a family name being associated with having more boys or girls in the family. Could you direct us to some more information?
I envy you, u. Although my immediate/extended family has relatively frequent reunions, I've never attended a mass get-together of far-flung relations. Then again, my immediate family is huge, so I guess it's just as well. :-)
Jennaren, I completely overlooked the current meaning of "training bra." In that sense, I think "training" refers to physical exercise--a bra to wear while training, working out, exercising, whatever you want to call it.
On the other hand, the 1950s sense was different. Essentially, they were bras for girls who did not need bras yet.
I always thought it was such a funny term. What needs to be trained? Perhaps the training bra is like a trellis that traines vines? Perhaps as you say, resettee, the girls must be trained to carry those mammary glands around.
I always thought the "training" had to do with teaching girls to buy bras. Or perhaps it was too dangerous for girs to wear real bras before the girls were properly trained.
It played into young girls hopes and anxieties about womanhood. In my cohort, using a bra was a treasured symbol.
Soon after that came the era of bra burning, but that is another story.
Not often. I live a few thousand miles away from where my Smith clan is concentrated, and it's hard to get away to see them. I will be attending my first reunion in... too long... this August, but it's intentionally a small reunion for just a couple generations of Smiths rather than the whole mob.
It's the most common name in America for a couple of reasons, but primarily because there are so many males to continue the name (as opposed to females who assume another name after marriage). The Smith family is notoriously male. In my own particular strand of it, my grandparents had three sons and one daughter, and my dad had three sons and no daughters. The Smith family reunions are HYUGE and predominantly Y-chromosomal.
A training bra is a more comfortable version of a sports bra. It's for girls who are just beginning to need one. Personally, I used to forget to wear one, so I always thought that that was the "training" aspect. More recently, I've discovered that there is a "right" way to don a bra, and that way is actually pretty complicated.